Revolutionising diagnosis of cardiovascular disease

A non-invasive method of detecting heart problems using a camera like the one we all have in our mobile phones has been developed by Auckland bioengineers and University of Otago researchers.

28 November 2018

Dr Amir Haji Rassouliha
Dr Amir Haji Rassouliha demonstrating the new method of diagnosis

Cardiovascular disease is the single biggest killer of New Zealanders, accounting for more than 30% of deaths every year.

Current methods of diagnosis are expensive, requiring advanced equipment, specialised clinicians or even surgery. This means most people do not get a proper diagnosis until they are already showing advanced symptoms.

The new research, which is being published as a paper in journal Nature: Scientific Reports, demonstrates how the camera is used to record a section of the neck; it then measures how the skin moves due to pulsing of the carotid artery or jugular vein. Those movements are translated into waveforms using a patented algorithm, and the resulting data can show abnormalities of the heart.

“The big thing with our method is that it’s non-contact,” says Emily Lam Po Tang who is a member of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) team.

Traditionally, to get accurate measurements the doctor would insert a catheter, which is quite invasive and expensive. And you don’t put a catheter in someone unless you know they are very unhealthy.

Whereas this could be used as an early diagnostic tool – something the general practitioner (GP) can do without extra training. At the moment, most GPs don’t do any tests on the jugular vein, because they don’t have the equipment and it’s very difficult to look at the pulsing of the neck with the naked eye and see what’s happening.

Emily Lam Po Tang

The research team says that using a camera is much more cost-effective than traditional methods, such as catheterisation, and can be just as accurate. And because of the lower cost, team member Dr Amir Haji Rassouliha says it opens up other potential applications, such as remote monitoring of patients.  

“For example, in rural areas they currently don’t have the equipment or training to perform these sorts of tests,” says Amir. “But with a camera it can be done by a GP anywhere, then they can send the data to a specialist or a cardiologist, who can analyse it and make an expert decision about treatment.”

The new method can be used to diagnose conditions such as pulmonary hypertension - diseases that can be debilitating and potentially life threatening. The technology used to analyse the waveforms, named Micro-CV, has been patented by the team with the help of UniServices.

The team have already confirmed the accuracy of their methods on a group of healthy patients – the next step is to carry out clinical tests with patients that already have cardiovascular disease.

The team from ABI includes Associate Professor Andrew Taberner, Professor Martyn Nash, Professor Poul Nielsen, Dr Amir Haji Rassouliha and Emily Lam Po Tang. Dr Yusuf Cakmak is a senior lecturer of anatomy at the University of Otago. Their work has been funded by the Medical Technologies Centre of Research Excellence (MedTech CoRE) and the National Science Challenge - Science for Technological Innovation Seed Fund.

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