Advanced acoustic monitor detects breathing difficulties

Epilepsy sufferers who risk suffocation during a seizure could be saved with a new small acoustic detector worn on the neck.

The device, which has been developed through the work of Dr Esther Rodriquez Villegas of Imperial College and Prof John Duncan of University College London, is being launched through a new Imperial Innovations venture.

According to Ervitech, the company behind the device, the instrument addresses the limitations of earlier acoustic breathing monitors by removing interference from background noise, speech and internal sounds such as heartbeats.

These advances allow Ervitech’s device to achieve similar accuracy to other techniques that use expensive and bulky monitoring equipment.

Prof Duncan explained the 2cm by 1cm device, which is currently in prototype stage, incorporates a small microphone that detects airflow up and down the trachea of a patient. A microchip processes the acoustic signal and determines whether or not there has been a breath. A small radio transmitter beams the information to a base station that could be on a bedside table.

‘The signal could also be used to alert any number of mobile phones,’ he said.

Prof Duncan, who is a researcher of neuroscience, added that the prime motivation for the device was finding an appropriate health monitoring solution for patients with epilepsy.

‘We wanted to have a device that could reliably detect apnoea and to be able to do that in and out of a hospital environment,’ he said. ‘For some conditions, particularly epilepsy, somebody may have a sudden interruption of breathing that may kill them unless somebody’s on hand to resuscitate them.’

According to Prof Duncan, the device would be particularly helpful at night because it could alert a sufferer’s caregiver or partner, who might otherwise be asleep, if there is a problem.

The Ervitech team is currently conducting clinical trials of the device with patients who suffer from breathing disorders such as sleep apnoea.

Prof Duncan said: ‘We’re just making sure it can detect different types of apnoea and also that it doesn’t have false positives.’

Assuming the results are comparable to ‘gold standard’ hospital breathing monitors, Prof Duncan said the Ervitech device could be widely available within two years.