Designing Sensing and Wearable Technologies to Diagnose Various Conditions

The aim of a new project carried out at the University of South Australia is to revolutionize how common health conditions are diagnosed with the help of wearable, point-of-care bio-diagnostic devices.

Professor Benjamin Thierry. Image Credit: University of South Australia

This project has been awarded a fund of around $2.2 million from the National Health, Medical and Research Council (NHRMC).

With the help of an NHMRC Investigator Grant, Professor Benjamin Thierry, a UniSA biomedical engineer, intends to design a variety of solid-state sensing and wearable technologies with the ability to diagnose conditions such as epilepsy, preeclampsia, heart attacks, and fetal arrhythmias.

Professor Thierry believes that such technologies will help bridge the considerable health outcome differences throughout the country, where Australians living in rural and remote regions experience higher levels of disease and decreased access to health services than those in metropolitan areas.

Wearable consumer products such as the Fitbit are already mainstream, yet the enormous transformative medical potential of wearable technologies is yet to be realized.

Benjamin Thierry, Professor and Biomedical Engineer, University of South Australia

Thierry continued, “There is a huge opportunity for us to create wearable devices capable of better diagnosing and monitoring medical conditions, particularly in rural and remote settings where patients often do not have access to the testing and specialist care that is available in cities.

Some of the technologies I hope to develop include wearable devices able to continuously and accurately monitor the ECG, which could in turn predict epileptic seizures or detect preeclampsia and other related pregnancy complications.

Benjamin Thierry, Professor and Biomedical Engineer, University of South Australia

These wearables use a cutting-edge solid-state sensing technology called Field Effect Transistors, which can measure bioelectric signals with extreme sensitivity when implemented at the nanoscale,” added Thierry.

Moreover, Professor Thierry will design conformal devices using Magnetic Tunneling Junction sensors for recording and mapping magnetic fields generated by the heart’s electrical activity.

Thierry believes this will pave the way for more precise non-invasive tracking of fetal cardiac activity and fast, point-of-care diagnosis of acute coronary syndrome, such as heart attacks.

Central to this project is developing innovative and affordable devices that can be used directly by patients under the supervision of primary healthcare providers, without the need for invasive or lengthy testing or specialist care.

Benjamin Thierry, Professor and UniSA Biomedical Engineer, University of South Australia

Thierry added, “These devices have the potential to revolutionize how we care for not only patients in regional Australia but people around the world who live in low resource and remote areas.

If we can provide affordable tools able to predict or diagnose within local communities, common health issues such as pregnancy complications or heart attacks, we would significantly improve healthcare across the board and ultimately reduce the health outcome disparities that exist around the globe,” concludes Thierry.

The project furthers Professor Thierry’s earlier study in UniSA’s Future Industries Institute, where he guided the research groups that designed patented cancer staging diagnostic technology, as well as an inexpensive, disposable hand-held device that can alert doctors if a woman has preeclampsia, using just a single drop of blood.

Of significance to Professor Thierry’s study is the collaboration with industry and end-users to guarantee that laboratory outcomes are translated into actual results for patients. According to him, this is crucial to make sure that the devices satisfy the regulatory approval of medical diagnostic devices and are viable for use in primary care settings.

Also, he will continue to collaborate with the Australian medical device community, such as the Medical Device Partnering Program, as well as with his worldwide network of collaborators.

Professor Thierry’s Investigator Grant project “Addressing Healthcare Disparities in Remote and Low Resource Settings with Solid-State Biodiagnostic Device” was recently awarded funding of $2,194,658.35 from the NHMRC.


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