Online Asthma Monitoring Closer to Reality

by Rajashri on Aug 25 2008 4:40 PM

An inexpensive web-enabled device that will be helpful for doctors to remotely measure lung function in patients with asthma and other disorders is being developed by scientists at Texas Instruments in Bangalore.

Writing in the International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology, the researchers said that such a system could allow doctors to quickly instigate medical attention in an emergency.

The application of spirometers, commonly used to measure lung capacity and the response of breathing during therapy, is limited in the developing world and in remote regions because of the high instrument cost of the instrument and a lack of specialist healthcare workers trained in its use.

N.C.S. Ramachandran, an expert in high-speed and low-power digital design at Texas Instruments, has now collaborated Vivek Agarwal, a professor of electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, to develop an inexpensive and easy to operate spirometer that can be quickly hooked up to an internet connection through built-in web and data encryption software.

Simply monitoring cough and wheezing in asthma sufferers does not always provide an accurate assessment of the severity of their symptoms.

Breathing tests carried out using a spirometer, on the other hand, are much more accurate and can provide a clear indication of whether or not medication is being effective.

Ramachandran and Agarwal have developed the device as a low-cost, portable spirometer built around a pressure sensor for detecting airflow.

The sensor is fabricated using technology similar to that for manufacturing computer chips, and is based on microelectromechanical system (MEMS).

The MEMS spirometer can measures the flow and volume of air moving in and out of the patient’s lungs.

According to the researchers, the use of mass production techniques for making the MEMS sensor, means the device can be inexpensive, small, and so portable.

The believe that embedding of the necessary electronics and software to allow it to connect to a computer and the Web make it ideal for remote monitoring by a patient’s healthcare worker.

"Not only can the remotely located patient consult a specialist, the specialist too can instruct the patient for specific test procedures and treatment," the researchers say.