Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, and according to the CDC, clogged arteries from coronary heart disease kill more than 385,000 people annually. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a tiny device they hope will lower that statistic — it's a 1.4-millimeter silicon chip that takes real-time, 3D images from inside the heart, coronary arteries, and surrounding blood vessels. Using volumetric imaging, it could better guide doctors through heart surgery and allow them to unclog some patients' arteries without major surgery.

The chip is a catheter-based device made with CMOS technology, an active pixel sensor that's common in cell phone cameras and webcams. It uses ultrasound transducers to process signals directly on the device, allowing data from more than a hundred elements on the device to be transmitted using 13 tiny cables. This lets the chip travel through the blood vessels easily and provide 3D images along the way.

It's like a 3D flashlight for your heart and arteries

Currently there are devices that can take internal images of the heart and arteries, but they only provide cross-sectional images, which do not give doctors the best view of the area they're working in. In a statement, F. Levent Degertekin of GIT, noted that the device could let doctors see everything in front of them within a blood vessel during examination and surgery. "This will give cardiologists the equivalent of a flashlight so they can see blockages ahead of them in occluded arteries," he says. "It has the potential for reducing the amount of surgery that must be done to clear these vessels."

The researchers plan to start animal testing on the device soon in hopes of obtaining FDA approval.