Professor invents breathing monitoring device for ventilator patients

Professor Mart Min's breathing monitoring sensor device.
Professor Mart Min's breathing monitoring sensor device. Source: ERR

A newly invented device which monitors patients with breathing difficulties could see further use during and beyond the coronavirus pandemic, ERR's Novaator portal reports. Lung monitoring is essential for patients, many of whom are elderly, in intensive care on ventilators, as the latter can even cause lung damage.

The prototype sensor device can measure and monitor a patient's breathing difficulties and assess if he or she requires more oxygen.

The device, a sensor, can measure and monitor a patient's breathing difficulties and assess if he or she requires more oxygen.

Many of the most serious coronavirus cases require intensive care treatment, which can involve the use of ventilators. As of Sunday there were a reported six patients on ventilators in Estonia, as a result of COVID-19 infection.

"For a long time we wanted to measure the cardiovascular system as regards how the heart and blood vessels work," said Professor Mart Min of Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), the device's inventor, on ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" Sunday evening.

"Then we did various experiments and in one experiment we saw that, ah, here the breathing signal comes across much stronger than the heart signal," Min went on.

Indrek Rätsep, Head of the Intensive Care Department at the North Estonian Medical Center (PERH), which has been a key location throughout the pandemic, noted that it was very important to monitor the lungs of a patient receiving respiratory assistance, not least because its mechanical nature could actually damage a patient's lungs.

"The most complicated patients are in intensive care, under breathing apparatus. The apparatus is still much like a pump, that pumps air in and out.W ith such oxygen treatment, in addition to administering oxygen, it is possible that the lungs themselves will suffer additional damage from the aerodynamics of the respiratory apparatus being generated – namely pressures and volumes. As a result, lung monitoring is extremely important," Rätsep told "Aktuaalne kaamera".

"If we add data which can be synchronized it is really possible that at some point you can see a picture behind the mosaic. Let's say that it would be possible to monitor every breath with these types of monitoring and techniques," he added, noting that he would definitely take on Professor Min's invention for trial testing.

"As it is a non-invasive, non-harmful method, it should not be very complicated from the point of view of administration. Why not [take it on]?" Rätsep said.

As the device's commercial prospects, Arno Kolga, CEO of the Estonian Electronics Industry Association (Eesti Elektroonikatööstuse Liit), said that Estonia has the ability to produce this type of sensor monitoring system.

"It depends a lot on will and maybe funding to some extent, because it's actually a pretty expensive project. It requires hundreds of thousands of euros to prepare for production," Kolga said.

"The technological side is in place, but now this financial side must also be thought up," Kolk added.

Devices previously developed by Professor Min and his colleagues, such as a smart heart pacemaker, have gone into production outside Estonia already.

"We have not been ready [here]; Estonia has not been ready to build them in its homeland. These are not complicated either, particularly a pacemaker, which still has to work inside a person. It has already gone into production in the U.S.," Professor Min said.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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