The non-invasive process, almost like an enhanced and digital version of a stethoscope, allows screening and detection of lung disorders with precision in a short time.
Developed by researchers of the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur in collaboration with the Institute of Pulmocare and Research, Kolkata (IPCR), the embedded system maps closeness to a disease. The researchers envisage that in remote settings, the images can be relayed via mobile phones to a healthcare facility for analysis of the visual data.
"The target was to identify certain patterns in the lung sound which carry distinguishing signatures of normality and abnormality and present in a visual form for easy identification," said P.S. Bhattacharyya, pulmonologist of IPCR. Its USP lies in the fact that it can collect breathing sounds and successfully filter out heart rhythms from lung sounds to zoom in on the disease.
The research spanning five years was the focus of an editorial in the medical journal "Respirology"
titled "Seeing What We Hear: An Eye To Help the Ear" in May.
Signal processing expert Goutam Saha, who helped create the mapping algorithm to convert digitally-processed lung sounds into pictures that highlight abnormalities, said the technology is simple enough even for a layman to use.
"At the moment, we have completed trials for only one group of diseases, called interstitial lung diseases. They lead to lung damage and ultimately loss of the elasticity of the lungs. Once introduced in the market on a large scale, it will be cost-effective," said Saha, a Professor in the electronics and electrical communication engineering department of IIT-Kharagpur.
The technology is likely to be brought into the market in the next three to four years with further enhancements and the capacity to detect a wide range of diseases, said P.P. Chakrabarti, Director of IIT-Kharagpur.
"The core technology has been patented. It has great potential to be used in medical education and quantification of the extent of spread of a disease. With cloud computing, the spectrum of diseases that the technology detects can be broadened," said Chakrabarti.