April 18, 2014      

A team of researchers from the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) at Carnegie Mellon University is awaiting Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval to begin field testing its Next Generation ECG, a portable electrocardiogram device that could reduce incidents of sudden cardiac death through earlier diagnosis of heart arrhythmias.

“We hope to receive IRB approval from the Allegheny Health System to begin data collection and testing by the end of summer,” said Chris Moehle, NREC associate director of new ventures and co-lead of its medical robotics initiative.

The Next Generation ECG uses a reusable vest warn by the patient that features substantially more electrodes than ordinary ECGs, employing the latest sensing technologies to boost the frequency of recordable electrical signals from 150-200 Hz to 1-2 kHz. This allows it to capture high-frequency signals that ordinary ECGs cannot detect, giving doctors an expanded view of the heart?s electrical activity and better insight into abnormal heart rhythms.

“We are developing medical interface and software leveraging technology to capture very sensitive and high frequency information,” Neil Stegall, project manager for Next Generation ECG said. “That recorded data is then interpreted by computers using a machine learning algorithm that also gathers such data as height, weight, ethnicity and gender to diagnose arrhythmias.”

Stegall says using deductive learning technology and data mining will allow the Next Generation ECG to improve patient outcomes and lower the cost of health care.

NREC, in partnership with the Allegheny Health Network and CMU’s Disruptive Health Technology Institute, are co-collaborators in the development of the device, a two-year, $290,000 project.

The Next Generation ECG was a regional finalist for the 2014 Hult Prize competition, which awards $1 million in seed money to the best idea from a university start-up that tackles the globe’s most pressing and solvable problems. This year’s competition focuses on alleviating the chronic disease burden for the world’s 250 million slum residents.

“Although we didn’t win, we learned a lot from the experience. It also gave us great exposure to a wide range of groups and organizations,” said Moehle. “For example, long term, the Next Generation ECG shows promise in aiding Red Cross clinics around the world, bringing hospital-quality diagnostic care anywhere.”

“Automated diagnosis is important where there is a shortage of doctors. With Next Generation ECG, you don’t need a nurse to precisely place the electrodes to get an accurate reading,” said Stegall, who added that the device is not meant to remove humans from the equation.

“It doesn’t replace a doctor but rather helps them make more informed decisions by interpreting the data gathered by its sensors,” says Stegall.

The first phase of Next Generation ECG is now in development, and the team will pursue additional funding after the completion of the field trials, which will involve 1,000 patients in the Pittsburgh area.