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Smartphone App Helps Epileptics
August 1, 2013   
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Specialists at the Military University of Technology (WAT) in Warsaw have designed an application designed to increase the safety and quality of life of people with epilepsy.

Installed on a mobile phone, the application, called Sense, will help monitor the user’s health. It will tell people around them, including chance passers-by, how to help the patient during an epileptic seizure, and notify their family about the seizure and where it took place.

The application, which can be installed on any smartphone, has been developed by researchers and students at the Faculty of Cybernetics of the Military University of Technology. The team was made of up of Bartłomiej Wójtowicz, Witold Matuszewski, Mateusz Chrustny, Piotr St±por and Monika Lipińska. The work of the team was managed by Mariusz Chmielewski, Ph.D.

The most important part of the application is an EMG sensor monitoring muscle activity. Electromyography (EMG) measures muscle response or electrical activity in response to a nerve’s stimulation of the muscle. The sensor is used to detect so-called tonic-clonic seizures involving convulsions and loss of consciousness. “Our sensor will channel information about such major muscular activity wirelessly to the phone, which will analyze the signal and decide on further action,” says Chmielewski.

The sensor, which is the size of a cell phone battery, can be attached to any muscle group, for example thigh, chest, back or shoulder muscles.

What if a patient simply begins to exercise and the sensor detects the activity of his or her muscles? Muscle contractions during epileptic seizures are usually very specific: short and very strong and unlikely to appear during a workout, for example, Chmielewski says. However, the researchers have made sure the system can deal with such an eventuality as well. After the application is activated, the patient has 15 seconds to cancel the alarm by touching the screen.

A message about the patient’s whereabouts and an ongoing seizure is sent to up to five people named in the system. At the patient’s request, the message can be additionally posted on Facebook and Twitter, but it will only be accessible to a specific group of people.

After detecting a seizure, the smartphone also begins to alert people nearby. It sounds an alarm signal and reads out instructions to passers-by. “The telephone gives instructions out loud: ‘I’m having an epileptic seizure, help me, put something under my head, move away any dangerous objects.’ The application also shows the patient’s data, provides information about the drugs he or she takes, their blood type and what additional health problems they have been diagnosed with,” Chmielewski says.

The researchers have built special algorithms to teach the system to identify patterns of muscle activity typical of tonic-clonic seizures. Thanks to this the system knows how to distinguish dangerous situations from false alarms. In addition, the system learns the characteristics of a false alarm in order not to repeat it again.

Chmielewski says many people with epilepsy have expressed an interest in the application. “We have been approached by many people who would want to buy it, but, for formal reasons, we cannot sell it to them for now,” Chmielewski says.

The market for medical devices is different from those for consumer goods. “We want to avoid a situation in which the solution would be imperfect. Therefore expensive studies and clinical trials are necessary,” says Chmielewski.

The team estimates that the mobile application will cost around zl.20 a month to use. The price of the wireless sensor will be around zl.200, making it the cheapest advanced wireless EMG sensor available, Chmielewski says.

The Polish researchers have no competition because few other devices are available on the market to assist people with epilepsy in this way. Work on a similar project is under way at the U.S. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That project, however, focuses on designing a sensor that uses a completely different measurement technique.

The Polish invention won a bronze medal at this year’s Concours Lepine international innovation exhibition in Paris and numerous prizes and awards at trade fairs in Seoul, Nuremberg, Tehran and Kuala Lumpur.

Olga Majewska
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