Friday, 22 May 2020 09:41

UniSA team aims to build wearables that can diagnose health conditions Featured

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UniSA team aims to build wearables that can diagnose health conditions Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Researchers at the University of South Australia are set to begin working on a project to build wearable devices that can diagnose health conditions like pre-eclampsia, epilepsy, foetal arrhythmias and heart attacks.

In a statement, UniSA said it obtained a grant of $2.2 million from the National Health, Medical and Research Council for biomedical engineer Professor Benjamin Thierry to develop solid-state and wearable technologies for this purpose.

The devices are aimed at Australians living in rural and regional areas as they experience higher levels of disease and have less access to health services, compared to city dwellers.

“Wearable consumer products such as the Fitbit are already mainstream, yet the enormous transformative medical potential of wearable technologies is yet to be realised,” said Prof Thierry.

“There is a huge opportunity for us to create wearable devices capable of better diagnosing and monitoring medical conditions, particularly in rural and remote settings where patients often do not have access to the testing and specialist care that is available in cities.

“Some of the technologies I hope to develop include wearable devices able to continuously and accurately monitor the ECG, which could in turn predict epileptic seizures or detect pre-eclampsia and other related pregnancy complications.

“These wearables use a cutting-edge solid-state sensing technology called Field Effect Transistors, which can measure bioelectric signals with extreme sensitivity when implemented at the nanoscale.”

Also planned is the development of conformal devices based on Magnetic Tunneling Junction sensors to record and map magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the heart.

Prof Thierry hopes this will lead to more accurate non-invasive monitoring of foetal cardiac activity and rapid and point-of-care diagnosis of acute coronary syndrome, including heart attacks.

“Central to this project is developing innovative and affordable devices that can be used directly by patients under the supervision of primary healthcare providers, without the need for invasive or lengthy testing or specialist care,” he said.

“These devices have the potential to revolutionise how we care for not only patients in regional Australia but people around the world who live in low resource and remote areas.

“If we can provide affordable tools able to predict or diagnose within local communities, common health issues such as pregnancy complications or heart attacks, we would significantly improve healthcare across the board and ultimately reduce the health outcome disparities that exist around the globe.”

Prior to this, Prof Thierry led teams that developed patented cancer staging diagnostic technology and a cheap and disposable hand-held device that can use a single drop of blood to see if a woman has pre-eclampsia.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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