Device developed by Abu Dhabi scientists ‘predicts heart attacks days in advance’
ABU DHABI // Scientists at Khalifa University are putting the finishing touches to a device they hope will be able to predict a heart attack hours, or even days before it happens.
Worn as a necklace or bracelet, the device – powered by body heat, not batteries – looks for irregular heart patterns in patients who have had an attack before.
It uses an algorithm to monitor electrocardiography, or ECG, data and can spot subtle changes in ECG shapes.
“People who have already had heart attacks show a different shape of ECG reading to a normal, healthy heart,” said Dr Ahsan Khandoker, professor of biomedical engineering.
Prof Mohammed Ismail, director of KU’s semiconductor research centre, said the device would provide greater scope for early intervention.
“Most devices detect heart attacks only after the onset but what we are doing is looking at what’s happening before the irregularity leading to the attack, giving a longer lead time,” he said. “We believe that this technology can give from three hours to up to a week’s warning, perhaps longer.”
But Prof Ismail, also Mubadala’s chairman of electrical engineering, said clinical trials were needed to validate this.
The device consists of a sensor, processor and wireless chip that transmits data to a mobile phone or healthcare provider.
The chips are made by Globalfoundries, a branch of Mubadala, and could cost as little as US$1 (Dh3.67) to $3 each when produced in large volume.
A patent application has been lodged in the US but this process takes about 16 months.
In the meantime, the university’s team of biomedical and electrical engineers wants to begin clinical trials.
“To verify the system we need to have ECG recordings of people who experienced a heart attack after a period of time, then we can feed that data into the system,” said Dr Hani Saleh, professor of electrical engineering. “It needs to be verified with more patients.”
This is where the university’s collaboration with Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi will be crucial.
Dr Alejandro Restrepo, cardiologist and electrophysiologist at the hospital’s heart and vascular institute is in discussions to advance the research.
“I can envision linking this device to telemedicine services to design a treatment plan for a patient who is at imminent risk of developing a potentially life-threatening arrhythmia before it actually happens,” Dr Restrepo said.
“CCAD has a remote monitoring clinic for patients with heart rhythm devices who suffer such arrhythmias and this could enhance our ability to predict future arrhythmias and quickly institute treatment plans to prevent them.”
He said the device was “simple, practical, easy to wear, highly accurate and user-friendly”.
“There are several types of heart-rhythm monitor devices commercially available, although the options in the UAE medical market are very limited,” Dr Restrepo said.
“Also, these devices usually detect rather than predict the onset of abnormal heart rhythms.
“This device is unique as it uses powerful algorithms to predict development of potentially dangerous arrhythmias in patients with different abnormal heart conditions.”
Dr Baker Mohammed, professor of electrical engineering at Khalifa University, said the device’s reliance on body heat was another major plus.
“We wanted this to be low maintenance and the body produces enough heat to electrically charge the device,” Dr Mohammed said.
“It is transmitted through the skin. As long as the patient is breathing, energy will be produced.”
Heart disease is Dubai’s biggest killer, responsible for 30 per cent of deaths, according to a 2014 survey by the Dubai Health Authority.
A combination of heat, stress and inactivity were leading factors, but smoking and bad diet created a perfect storm for heart disease, doctors said.