Just like a falling heart rate triggers an alarm to alert doctors in the intensive care unit (ICU), a hybrid biomedical sensor fitted on a mask and integrated with a smartphone through Bluetooth could soon help doctors diagnose obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and even monitor patients in ICUs.
Sleep apnea is a serious disorder in which a person’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts. It causes issues such as excessive day time sleeping, fatigue and can even trigger cardiovascular diseases.
Currently, Polysomnography is a common invasive technique, which needs bulky instruments that have strict positional requirements and cause immense discomfort to patients. This often results in inaccurate readings, making diagnosis difficult.
Not anymore. For, researchers at the Birla Institute of Technology (BITS), Pilani (Hyderabad) campus, have come up with a new technology that will analyse breathing patterns of patients using a very small sensor made of a highly porous material that is also used for gas storage due to its ability to absorb and store.
The researchers have developed a sensor embedded mask that is efficient in detecting various kinds of breaths such as deep, fast, slow, hydrated and dehydrated breath. Connected to a signal processing unit, the sensor triggers an alarm whenever it finds a patient has missed a breath or two.
“The device senses different breath types. The amount of water molecules in a hydrated breath will be different from a dehydrated breath. This device differentiates between different breath patterns based on the humidity levels of the breath,” said Himanshu Aggarwal, assistant professor, BITS, Hyderabad, adding that the breath sensor shows a fast response time of just 0.38 seconds to record the breath.
A smartphone-based prototype has already been prepared by the four-member team (two faculty members and two students) to demonstrate the real-time application of the hybrid device.
The sensor-embedded mask will be connected to an Android application via bluetooth. The mask transfers the breath analysis data to the application in order to analyse the sleep apnea risk of patients.
“If a patient doesn’t breathe for 15 seconds then the device generates an alert to the relatives, doctors etc. for intervention. We now want to collaborate with hospitals to verify its efficacy and commercialise it,” said Aggarwal.
The research titled ‘MOF based flexible, low-cost chemi-resistive device as a respiration sensor for sleep apnea diagnostics’ was also published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry on October 5, 2020.
The researchers are now in the process of identifying hospitals where the prototype can be tested and plan to miniaturise the device further so that it can sit below the nostrils sans even a mask, after which it can be made available for commercial use.
While Aggarwal rues that Covid-19 has slowed down plans to test their prototype in a hospital setting to get a validation from the medical fraternity, he is quite confident that they can miniaturise the device in just a week’s time on the BITS Pilani-Hyderabad campus itself.