Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Made in Mumbai, wanted by the world


The world’s smallest wearable cardiac monitor, a toffee-sized silicon locket, is almost ready at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B).

While the tiny computer that can store a week’s electrocardiogram (ECG) data awaits a manufacturer, it is already in demand. IIT engineers borrow it, rig some adjustments and the locket meant to monitor a heart without hospital visits measures tremors in buildings instead.

“I would be the first to buy one for my mother. The basic device is like plug-and-play,’’ said IIT’s professor Rakesh Lal, of the School of Bioscience and Bioengineering, who conceptualized the project with professor S. Mukherji. “There isn’t another product like the silicon locket,’’ Lal told HT from the University of California where he is a visiting fellow. Similar ECG monitors in the market are walkman-sized or bigger.

The demand for a user-friendly cardiac monitor is urgent in India, where, as top cardiologist Devi Shetty puts it, ‘heart disease is like an epidemic.’ “Indians are genetically three times more vulnerable to heart attacks than Europeans,’’ Dr Shetty, chairman, Narayana Hrudayalaya, told HT from Bangalore. “The average age of my patients in India is 45 years. Fathers bring their young sons for bypass grafting.”

Indians and South Asians are prone to a first heart attack at age 53, and the World Health Organisation estimates that 60 per cent of the world’s cardiac patients could be Indians by 2010.

“The locket is a hi-tech solution delivered in a low-tech fashion,’’ said professor Dinesh Sharma, who heads the project, funded by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) at IIT’s microelectronics department. “A user could also send its data card to a hospital to download ECG.’’

Algorithms fed in its system enable the locket to distinguish between jerks from running, working out or climbing stairs, and irrythmic heartbeats. Worn with five electrodes on the chest, a sensor in the locket records the heart’s electrical activity or ECG.

If it detects abnormalities, it can automatically transmit the last few seconds of ECG data to a central server using a mobile phone interface.

“We use trans-telephonic ECG devices to transmit ECG from villages through telephone lines, but the IIT device is more sophisticated,’’ said Dr Shetty. “It definitely has clinical applications, however, they’ll have to come up with a perfect product, since you cannot take chances with life.”

When a user feels uneasy, he can press a locket button to ‘mark’ that data so a doctor can later scrutinise marked segments and check the heart’s activity before the irregularity. Connected to a cell phone, the locket can be programmed to send SMS containing marked data to a doctor. Software in the locket forwards the data to the mobile, which sends the SMS.

TCS chief technology officer K Ananth Krishnan said, “TCS is always looking to collaborate with institutions to identify new technology areas and mutually develop intellectual capital.’’
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