An AI laser that reads heartbeats in the throat could replace stethoscopes | Cardiac disease

Scientists have developed a laser camera that can remotely read a person’s heartbeat and identify signs that they might be suffering from cardiovascular disease.

The system – which harnesses AI and quantum technologies – could transform the way we monitor our health, say researchers at the University of Glasgow.

“This technology could be installed in stands in shopping centers where people could get a quick reading of their heart rate which could then be added to their online medical record,” said Professor Daniele Faccio of the Center for Advanced Research in the university.

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

Monitoring a person’s heart rate remotely would be particularly useful because irregularities – including murmurs or heartbeats that are too fast or too slow – would warn that they are at risk of having a stroke or cardiac arrest, Faccio added. .

Currently, doctors use stethoscopes to monitor heartbeats. Invented at the beginning of the 19th century by the French surgeon René Laënnec (to avoid having to place his ear on a patient’s chest), the stethoscope is made up of a disc-shaped resonator which, placed on the patient’s body, a person, captures the noises emitted within their body. These are transmitted and amplified, via tubes and headphones, to the person listening.

“It takes training to properly use a stethoscope,” Faccio said. “If you press too hard on a patient’s chest, it will dull the heart rate signals. At the same time, it can be difficult to detect background murmurs, which provide key signs of defects occurring behind the main heartbeat.

The system developed by Faccio and his team involves high-speed cameras capable of recording images at speeds of 2,000 frames per second. A laser beam is shone onto the skin of a person’s throat and the reflections are used to measure exactly how much their skin rises and falls as their main artery expands and contracts as blood passes through it. These changes involve movements of only a few billionths of a meter.

Such acuity is striking, even if tracking these tiny fluctuations alone would not be enough to track a heartbeat. “There are other, much larger movements occurring in a person’s chest – due to their breathing, for example – that would overshadow their heart rate signals.

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

Analyzing the resulting signals allows healthcare personnel to detect changes in heart rate – not relative to a statistical population average but relative to a person’s specific cardiac behavior. That makes it invaluable for spotting changes that might be happening in their cores and identifying specific flaws, said Faccio, whose team created a startup, LightHearted AI, which is now seeking venture capital to expand development. of its devices.

“This system is very accurate,” Faccio said. “Even if you share a house with 10 people, he could identify you from anyone else just by pointing a laser at your throat and analyzing your heartbeat from his reflection. Indeed, another use of the system concerns biometric identification.

“But the main use of this technology – which we hope to have ready next year – will be to measure heartbeats easily and quickly outside of hospitals or GP practices. The benefits could be considerable.

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