Two IEEE Award Recipients Contributed to Life-Saving Biomedical Devices

Mark Allen and Charles Mistretta to be honored for advances in cardiovascular technology

15 April 2016

The developer of a system for monitoring heart-failure patients is being recognized with an IEEE Technical Field Award this year, and a leader in cardiovascular imaging technology will be receiving an IEEE Medal. The annual awards are presented for contributions or leadership in IEEE fields of interest.

IEEE Fellow Mark G. Allen, professor of electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, is receiving this year’s IEEE Daniel E. Noble Award for Emerging Technologies. He is being recognized “for contributions to research and development, clinical translation, and commercialization of biomedical microsystems.”

Allen and Dr. Mark Yadav, a cardiologist, developed and commercialized the CardioMEMS, an implantable wireless sensor for monitoring blood pressure in patients with heart failure. The device helps doctors track a patient’s activity and adjust medications. Last year it became the first microelectromechanical sensor to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permanent implantation. Hospital admissions dropped by nearly 40 percent for patients using the CardioMEMS device, and readmissions were reduced by almost 80 percent, clinical studies showed.

This year’s IEEE Medal for Innovations in Healthcare Technology is being presented to Charles A. Mistretta, professor of medical physics, radiology, and biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Mistretta is being cited “for the development of imaging instrumentation and techniques that have transformed the diagnosis and treatment of vascular disease.”

During the 1970s, X-rays were the standard for radiography and angiography. Film angiograms—X-ray tests that use a dye and a camera to take images of the bloodstream—were limited, however, because of interference from overlying organs. Incorporating a handmade digital image processor, Mistretta developed the digital subtraction angiography (DSA) technique, in which images are taken before and after a contrast medium (a substance used to enhance images of bodily structures and fluids) is injected into the bloodstream. He went on to refine and optimize DSA to provide nearly real-time visualization of vascular structures without obstructions. This safer and more effective technology revolutionized angiography, and DSA is now used in practically every medical facility.

In the 1990s, Mistretta applied DSA technology to overcome the limitations of slow magnetic resonance data acquisition in contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) techniques.

He also developed the time-resolved imaging of contrast kinetics (TRICKs) method for 3-D visualization of vascular beds (intricate networks of minute blood vessels), which had been difficult to capture. The TRICKS method provides doctors with dynamic vascular information and eliminates the timing uncertainty associated with single-image MRA. Mistretta’s radiation-free MRA method uses less toxic contrast material and is administered through the veins rather than through the major arteries, making the process safer and more effective.

Read about the rest of the innovators who are receiving IEEE’s top awards this year.

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