Biomedical engineering PhD student Meseret (Mes) Teferra’s latest project is not just saving the chest hair of men who have ECGs—and need to rip off those sticky electrodes afterwards. It will provide a valuable resource to hospitals and remote care.
Mes Teferra has a great idea up his sleeve. He’s working on an e-textile or ‘smart clothing’ prototype to track heart health. The wearable t-shirt will be embedded with electrodes that transmit real-time and wireless 12-lead ECG (i.e. electrocardiogram, used to detect electrical activity in the heart) monitoring to hospitals. Unlike the bulky holter monitors that athletes wear, it will have the ease and comfort of an ordinary t-shirt. Users won’t need to position the electrodes—so user error will no longer be an issue. It will be as easy as wearing it and turning it on.
The t-shirt is not designed with athletes in mind. Mes is using his skills as a biomedical engineer (working hand-in-hand with his supervisors, cardiovascular expert Professor Robyn Clark and biomedical engineers Professor Karen Reynolds and Dr David Hobbs) to address rural patients and hospitals without the resources to give ECGs to everyone who needs one. Cardiovascular disease is a huge health problem, occurring in about one in five adults in Australia. When he worked as a biomedical engineer in Addis Cardiac Hospital in Ethiopia, Mes saw the limited space and high demand for ECGs. He saw patients sent home who would benefit from ongoing monitoring, and patients kept in hospital for ongoing monitoring that could’ve been administered in the comfort of their home. His invention, the t-shirt, could be sent home with discharged patients, mailed out to rural people concerned about their heart health, or even used in hospitals where the ease of storage and set up would cut down space and time committed to ECGs. It could be used to help get patients out of bed and moving around the hospital with ease.
Patients who use an ECG holter monitor might misplace the electrodes and the stickies might peel off, so it has many problems.
This time it was my father, but next time it will be someone else. If I create something like this t-shirt, I am part of the solution.
When Mes thinks about the impact of his research, he thinks of his dad—who suffered a heart attack and did not make it to the hospital in time. For people living rurally, managing cardiac health would be made easier with this technology.
While the industry standard is to use 12 electrodes, Mes’s design could allow for 15 electrodes—providing the option for a more comprehensive test. He is currently experimenting with how the t-shirt should transmit data to the hospital, how to increase the distance and coverage of the connection, and how to make it simple and comfortable (reducing the bulkiness of the electrodes). Mes is taking all factors into consideration. One surprising opportunity has led Mes to work with an ex-wedding dress designer, who is now an engineer at Tonsley, to make the t-shirt look like something people want to wear. ‘It won’t look like a medical device,’ Mes promises.
E-textile technology is a rapidly growing field, and Mes is bringing it into the world of cardiac health and monitoring. When asked about this type of research, he’ll reply, ‘I have no idea how I got here, but this is where I want to be.’
Meserat Teferra is a biomedical engineering PhD student at Flinders University, where he is looking at possible options for 12-lead e-textile based diagnostic ECG monitoring for cardiac patients. Before starting his PhD, Mes spent more than six years as a biomedical engineer working for different institutes and companies including Jimma Institute of Technology, Addis Ababa Institute of Technology, Addis Cardiac Hospital, and Infinity Advanced Technology Solutions (formerly Boston Medical).
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