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Science & Technology

Wearable patch can measure a heart’s performance

Scientists at UC San Diego have designed a wearable heart monitor they say could take the place of a hospital cardiogram. KPBS sci-tech reporter Thomas Fudge tells us about this new device about the size of a postage stamp.<br/>

Sheng Xu holds in his hand a flexible card, the size of a postage stamp, that can adhere to someone’s chest to capture and show the movement of the heart. It has an algorithm that analyzes the images to see if the heart is pumping enough blood.

The data can be transferred to a laptop to reconstruct the images and show analytical information.

“That’s the power of AI,” said Xu, a professor of nanoengineering at UC San Diego.

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“If we don’t have the (artificial intelligence) the data needs to be interpreted by professionals. If we have the AI we can automatically process it and give you simple, actionable information,” he added.

Sheng Xu is the senior author of an article in the journal Nature that describes the development of the ultrasonic cardiac imager, as its inventors call it. It’s the same imaging technology used during pregnancy to look at the fetus in utero.

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Thomas Fudge
/
KPBS
UC San Diego engineering professor Sheng Xu holds a small cardiac imaging monitor that can be worn on the chest to examine the heart. Feb 2, 2023

But fetal imaging requires manual positioning of an ultrasound probe. Xu said his heart monitor doesn’t need that.

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“This electronic scan, called a phased array ... will be able to be actively looking for the target by itself. All done electronically by the program without the manual scanning or repositioning of the device,” Xu said.

The ability to scan the heart, see the images and get analytical data is part of a movement toward wearable monitors. Devices like the Fitbit allow people to keep track of their vital signs at home.

Xu said the user-friendliness of the new cardiac monitor also means physicians and surgeons in remote parts of the world can check heart functions themselves. They would not need access to trained staff and echocardiogram machines.

“With our technology, this simple patch, any person with minimal training can use it very well,” he said.

Along with a partner, Xu has founded a company called Softsonics to commercialize the device. He expects initial customers may include hospital ICU’s, where many patients need their heart functions monitored constantly.

He and his colleagues are now designing a device that can transfer images to a laptop wirelessly. The wearable cardiac imager will be marketed to the public in about two years.