Remote heartbeat monitor will outperform current technology
|Above: Professor Terry Clark and the prototype of the remote heartbeat monitor.|
Doctors may be able to monitor a patient's heartbeat from a
distance by using a radical new sensor that is currently being developed in the
School of Engineering and Information Technology.
Although research by Professor Terry Clark and his team is
in the early stages, the device has already been used to monitor a clothed
person's heartbeat from a metre away, without any electrical connections.
Potential applications of the sensor include remote monitoring of burns victims
who cannot be touched.
The researchers present their remarkable new data in the
current issue of Measurement Science and Technology and describe a fresh
approach to the detection of electrical activity in the human body.
They predict that the new approach will lead to radical
improvements in the measurement of electrical activity in the heart (using
electrocardiograms, or ECGs) and brain (using electroencephalograms, known as
EEGs) as well as other parts of the body.
Existing ECGs record the rhythm and activity of the heart
via small adhesive pads on the surface of the skin. The pads are connected to a
machine that picks up and amplifies the electrical signals produced by each
heartbeat and displays them on a screen or print-out.
But the problem with ECGs, says Terry, is that the skin
contacts distort the electrical measurements because they drain the current
slightly. "You get a smaller and distorted signal," he told the New
Scientist,which details the work. "It's best not to make contact
with the skin."
Together with Dr Robert Prance and Dr Christopher Harland,
Terry set about developing a remote, non-contact alternative. The resulting
sensor is a small disc about a centimetre across - although the team won't say
much more about it, preferring to keep the details close to their chest while
patents are pending.
However, Terry is confident about the potential of the new
approach, suggesting that in the near future it may form the basis of a
radically new technology. "We now have the means to access and detect
non-invasively any electrical signal ranging from foetal heart signals through
to EEGs of brain function," he said.
Dr Ary Goldberger, a cardiologist at Harvard Medical School
in the USA, told the New Scientist that the claim needed to be
independently verified, but agreed that the sensor could be the basis of a
major advance in remote medical sensing.
The group are the first to develop their intellectual
property under the University's new Code of Practice on Intellectual Property,
Commercial Exploitation and Financial Benefits. They are working with the
University's Commercialisation Manager, Russ Bown, to license the intellectual property to a number of leading ECG
manufacturers and to provide support throughout the product-development process.
The University has ambitious plans to increase the volume and commercial value of research ideas (known as "intellectual property") that are developed for manufacturing and business purposes and will be encouraging academics to follow in the footsteps of Professor Terry Clark's group, who have just filed a patent application for their remote heartbeat monitor.
A new University of Sussex company will be responsible for commercialising intellectual property, with three business streams to exploit research output: licensing and company formation; research contracts with commercial clients; and consultancy.
The chief executive officer of the new company, Dr Allan Syms, took up his post this week. Allan was a biochemistry undergraduate at Sussex in the mid 1970s and has been the chief executive of three successful spin-out companies from UCL, UMIST and Aberdeen University.
In addition, a joint venture with the University of Surrey encourages and supports the commercialisation of biotechnology-based research ideas generated by Sussex academics within the School of Biological Sciences.
Beacon Bio, as the new venture is known, has funding under the Biotechnology Exploitation Platform (BEP) challenge of the Department for Trade and Industry and employs a specialist Biotechnology Commercialisation Manager, Dr Mike Shaw.
Friday 8 February 2002
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