Wednesday, 30 July 2014
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Healthy development

An ultra-low power silicon chip could pave the way for future wireless body networks that use 'digital plasters' in healthcare applications.

The Sensium chip, developed by Toumaz Technology - a spin-out from Imperial College London - is said to consume up to 100 times less power than any other similar device in the world and employs the spin-out's proprietary AMx technology as part of an intelligent system on a chip.

Coupled with external sensors such as heart rate monitors or biochemical sensors that monitor glucose or blood pH levels, it is hoped that the chip could be used to continuously monitor patient health.

Toumaz director of technology Dr Alison Burdett believes that wireless body networks - where patients can be remotely monitored 24 hours a day - is only possible if the battery that powers the sensors is not cumbersome or intrusive.

'Its low-power consumption is key. It will open up a range of applications where small size is important, particularly for body-worn and healthcare applications,' she said.

Toumaz is also working with the NHS patient database, Oracle, to trial the system which will collect the data on the patient's PDA. This can then be uploaded on to the main database without human intervention, simplifying the monitoring process of those with heart problems, for example.

The technology in Sensium uses a mixture of analogue and digital processing embedded on the chip to select the most relevant data and send it via Bluetooth to a PDA or PC. This is sent using Sensium's transceiver, which Toumaz claims is the world's lowest powered for digital data transmission.

'It is a complicated but cost-effective system-on-a-chip (SOC) design for proactive monitoring, which will become increasingly important as the population ages and healthcare is stretched to its limit,' said Burdett. 'We want to bring the economies of scale of the semiconductor industry to healthcare to deliver real-time, personalised care.'

Continuous monitoring has the advantage of being able to quickly spot any dangerous peaks or troughs in patient health more accurately than current monitoring methods. For example, if Sensium is processing a patient's ECG data the chip can be programmed to detect aberrant beats and trigger an alarm that the patient may require urgent assistance.

Toumaz is currently using extremely thin, low-power, printable batteries developed by Israel's Power-Paper to design the 'digital plaster' that could be prescribed to monitor at-risk patients. Burdett estimated that the first prototype could be developed by early next year.

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