Advances in diagnosing childhood asthma
Ville-Pekka Seppä (front row, first on the right), Pekka Männistö, Jari Viik (back row, first on the right) and Ari Metsähalme.
Researchers at TUT have developed a new method for the diagnosis and control of childhood asthma. The next step is the development of a diagnostic device and software for medical professionals.
The roots of the innovation can be traced back to a Tekes-funded project that explored the wireless transfer of physiological data. The project left Researcher Ville-Pekka Seppä wondering whether the results could be further applied to medicine and, for example, asthma diagnostics.
A medical device for diagnosing and monitoring childhood asthma is a commercial innovation with great global potential.
– Harri Ojansuu, Senior Technology Adviser, Tekes
“According to WHO estimates, asthma is the most common chronic disease among children. Yet there are limited measurement methods available for diagnosing asthma in children and adjusting their medication doses,” says Seppä.
“Common diagnostic tests, such as PEF measurements and spirometry, cannot be used in infants and young children. Some hospitals have special equipment and highly experienced staff for confirming childhood asthma, but often the diagnosis is made based on the observations of parents.”
Home measurements while asleep
The device is designed to record a sleeping child’s lung function at home.
“Electrodes are attached to the child’s sides and arms to noninvasively monitor the expansion and contraction of the lungs. The data is stored in a unit that is not much bigger than a box of matches. The measurement device and cords are held in place under a shirt, so they won’t disturb the sleeping child,” says Professor Jari Viik who leads the research group.
The collected data is transferred to a hospital for analysis by medical professionals. A patented signal processing method accurately sifts respiratory signals from the distortion generated by the child’s beating heart and the blood flow.
Ari Metsähalme and Jari Viik are holding a shirt that sleeping children wear while their breathing pattern is monitored.
Easy to use by healthcare professionals
Since the data output must be reliable and easy to read by trained medical personnel, the researchers decided to commission the analysis software and user interface from Vincit Ltd, a software development company based in Tampere.
Vincit built a user interface that draws diagrams to visualize a child’s breathing pattern during sleep and thereby enables a physician to easily identify any respiratory problems.
“The interface was developed under the University’s close supervision and according to a detailed schedule. Weekly meetings ensured that the interface met the expectations of the researchers and future end users,” say Team Leader Ari Metsähalme and Software Designer Pekka Männistö from Vincit.
Global market awaits
The prototype will undergo clinical testing at Helsinki University Central Hospital.
“We’re also preparing to launch a spin-off company to commercialize the technology and introduce it to the market. The first products will most likely become commercially available before the end of 2014,” says Jari Viik.
Primarily financed by Tekes, the project was among the first to be accepted to Tekes’s TUTLI funding programme that promotes the commercialization of research results. The project was also sponsored by the TTY Foundation.