Sensors could prevent heart disease complications

2 min read

Mobile sensors designed to unlock the secrets of the body’s electrical activity could create a new early warning system for heart disease patients.

Scientists from universities and companies in eight European countries are developing a way of breaking down electrocardiogram (ECG) signals from the heart to get a better understanding of factors affecting a patient’s condition.

Researchers from Southampton University are working on the implant that will monitor and analyse the ECG and transmit the data to the patient’s doctor, alerting them if there is a problem.

Different electrical frequencies can dominate the ECG signal so, by using a type of analysis known as wavelet transform, the team hopes to discover which frequency component is dominant at which time.

The device also will collate information from skin sensors detecting temperature, sweat and movement, giving a better understanding of how activity affects ECG.

This will allow doctors to identify interference from other ‘artefacts’, such as the electrical activity produced by muscle movement.

‘All these factors could affect ECG but nobody yet knows how,’ said Dr Koushik Maharatna from the university’s school of electronics and computer science. Maharatna’s co-collaborators Prof John Morgan from the university’s school of medicine and Dr Nick Curzen from Southampton University Hospital NHS Trust.

‘With the right infrastructure, the doctor can access all the information and find out which aspect of the data is dependent on which factor.’

The device will be designed to analyse the data so it can transmit an alert to the patient’s doctor only when a problem occurs, saving the power that would otherwise be used for transmitting large amounts of information. The doctor can then request the full set of data if necessary.

‘There are three main challenges,’ said Maharatna. ‘We need to create a better diagnostic operation, improve the power efficiency, and preserve the quality of information without affecting the power consumption.

‘Intensive computations consume a lot of power, so a normal battery-powered ECG system will go flat in no time. We need to design an algorithm in a way that is ultra-low power consuming.’

The three-year project will be concluded with a 400-person pilot study. The system is intended to improve the prevention of heart disease complications but the team hopes the technology could be used for patients with other conditions.

‘It will automatically alert the person responsible for the patients’ care — whether that’s a family member, doctor or carer,’ said Maharatna. ‘And if patients go abroad then doctors in foreign hospitals will also be able to access the data.’

The research is part of the international £18m CHIRON project, a consortium of universities and companies including Philips Healthcare in the Netherlands and Barco in Belgium, co-financed by the ARTEMIS public-private research body.

Different partners will be working on the other components of the system, such as the skin sensors, transmission and data imaging.