Monday, March 4, 2024

Glasgow’s AI-Infused Laser Lens might replace stethoscopes

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Researchers at Glasgow University have created a special camera that uses lasers to read a person’s heartbeat from a distance. This camera, powered by AI and quantum technologies, can detect signs of cardiovascular illnesses. The development of this system has the potential to change how we keep track of our health.

“This technology could be set up in booths in shopping malls where people could get a quick heartbeat reading that could then be added to their online medical records,” said Professor Daniele Faccio of the university’s Advanced Research Centre.

“Alternatively laser heart monitors could be installed in a person’s house as part of a system for monitoring different health parameters in a domestic setting,” he said. Other devices would include monitors to track blood pressure abnormalities or subtle changes in gait, an early sign of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Being able to monitor a person’s heartbeat from a distance is particularly valuable because it can alert us to irregularities, such as murmurs or heartbeats that are too fast or too slow, indicating a risk of stroke or cardiac arrest, explained Faccio.

Currently, doctors use stethoscopes for heart monitoring. Invented in the early 19th century by the French surgeon René Laënnec, the stethoscope serves to avoid the need for a doctor to place their ear directly on a patient’s chest. It consists of a disk-shaped resonator that, when placed on the body, picks up internal noises. These sounds are then transmitted and amplified through tubes and earpieces to the person listening.

“It requires training to use a stethoscope properly,” Faccio said.

“If pressed too hard on a patient’s chest, it will dampen heartbeat signals. At the same time, it can be difficult to detect background murmurs, which provide key signs of defects, that are going on behind the main heartbeat.”

In the innovative system crafted by Faccio and his research team, they employed advanced high-speed cameras with the remarkable capability of recording images at an impressive speed of 2,000 frames per second. The operational principle involves directing a laser beam onto the skin of an individual’s throat. Through a meticulous analysis of the reflections produced by the skin, the system accurately measures the minuscule oscillations of the skin’s surface. These subtle movements correspond to the expansion and contraction of the main artery as it responds to the rhythmic pulsing of blood through its channels. Remarkably, these intricate changes manifest at an astonishingly fine scale, involving movements that are mere billionths of a meter in magnitude.

The precision achieved by this system is remarkable. However, merely tracking these minute fluctuations alone wouldn’t suffice for monitoring a heartbeat. Additional, substantially larger movements take place on a person’s chest, such as those induced by breathing, for instance. These larger movements have the potential to overshadow or drown out the signals emanating from the heartbeat.

“That is where AI comes in,” Faccio said. “We use advanced computing systems to filter out everything except the vibrations caused by a person’s heartbeat – even though it is a much weaker signal than the other noises emanating from their chest. We know the frequency range of the human heartbeat, and the AI focuses on that.”

Faccio emphasized the system’s remarkable accuracy, stating, “Even in a household with 10 people, it could distinguish you from anyone else by simply shining a laser on your throat and analyzing your heartbeat from its reflection. In fact, another potential application of the system is for biometric identification.”

However, the primary purpose of this technology, expected to be ready for use next year, is to facilitate the easy and rapid measurement of heartbeats outside hospital or GP settings. Faccio highlighted the significant potential benefits of this application.

Despite the promising features of this technology, there may be valid reasons why some individuals choose not to adopt it or engage with such advancements.

The laser camera developed by Faccio and his team at Glasgow University, leveraging AI and quantum technologies, holds immense promise for transforming healthcare monitoring. The system’s ability to remotely read a person’s heartbeat with exceptional precision, even in a crowded household, opens up avenues for biometric identification. More significantly, its primary use lies in offering a convenient and rapid means of measuring heartbeats outside traditional medical settings. This innovation could bring about a paradigm shift in health monitoring, allowing for early detection of cardiovascular issues and personalized insights into an individual’s cardiac health. With the anticipated readiness of the technology in the coming year, the potential benefits for widespread adoption and improved healthcare outcomes are considerable.

While the technology presents a remarkable leap forward in medical science, it is important to recognize that public acceptance and ethical considerations may influence its adoption. As advancements like these continue to redefine the boundaries of healthcare, a thoughtful and inclusive approach is essential to navigate the implications of such transformative technologies in our daily lives. The development of LightHearted AI and its pursuit of venture capital signify a step towards realizing the full potential of this innovation, with the hope that it may soon become an integral part of accessible and effective healthcare solutions.

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