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The University of Sussex

 28 January 2002 

Remote heartbeat monitor will outperform current technology

Doctors may be able to monitor a patient's heartbeat from a distance by using a radical new sensor that is currently being developed at the University of Sussex in Brighton.

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 Prof Clark, 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, Prof Clark 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, Prof Clark 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.

A spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation was keen to emphasise the accuracy of the current technology: "The ECG test is a well-established, quick and simple way of recording the rhythm and electrical activity of the heart. Patients should be assured that doctors can gain accurate assessments of the heart's electrical activity using the established equipment."

But Prof Clark argues: "Given that the basic technology associated with the measurement of body electrical signals is almost a century old, it is perhaps not unreasonable to look for innovation in this area, with the possibility of greatly enhanced performance."




 Notes for editors 

For further information, please contact Prof Terry Clark, Tel. 01273 678087, email T.D.Clark@sussex.ac.uk, or Press Office contacts: Alison Field or Peter Simmons, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, A.Field@sussex.ac.uk or P.J.Simmons@sussex.ac.uk.

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