Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Europe and early diagnosis is essential to save lives. Monitoring the heart's rhythm and electrical activity in real time using an electrocardiogram (ECG) provides vital information about abnormalities and gives clues to the nature of a problem. Some cardiac conditions need long-term monitoring - inconvenient for patients as it requires them to be away from their everyday environment for indeterminate periods of time.
Six years ago, Latvian company Integris Ltd, a specialist in the development of mobile wireless telemedicine ECG recording devices, came up with the concept of an inexpensive, real-time heart activity monitor for personal use. Initially, the wireless technologies available were not a practical option for the device Integris had in mind, but when hybrid chips came onto the market EUREKA project E! 3489 HEART GUARD was born.
The HEART GUARD system comprises a lightweight, simple to use, matchbox-size device with five electrodes that are strategically placed on the wearer's chest. The wireless device transmits data in real time directly to the patient's pocket computer or desktop PC for instant interpretation by the system's unique software. The low-cost device is discreet enough to be worn 24 hours a day, recording, analysing and reporting not only the rhythm and electrical activity of a patient's heart but also his physical activity and body positions, as they go about their daily life.
'Effectively, it is an early warning system,' explains Juris Lauznis, Director of Integris, the project's lead partner. 'If HEART GUARD detects a problem, patients are alerted by means of vibration or a buzzer, prompting them to check their PC for further information and advice. At the very least, the device will help to monitor and manage a patient's condition - and it could even save a life.'
Currently HEART GUARD is being developed for home use only, with patients monitoring their own condition and only contacting a doctor or hospital if the system identifies a cause for concern. HEART GUARD also has applications in a number of other areas, including telemedicine, sports medicine, patient rehabilitation following cardiac surgery or a heart attack and as a low-cost ECG monitoring system in hospitals and clinics with limited budgets.
With the 30-month project completed and clinical trials of the prototype successfully concluded by Kaunas Medical University's Institute of Cardiology, the Lithuania Academy of Physical Education and the Research Institute of Cardiology at the University of Latvia, the next steps are to satisfy the EU's strict compliance requirements for medical devices and then source a company to manufacture and distribute the system. If successful, the first commercial HEART GUARD devices could be on the market and saving lives by the end of 2008 or early 2009.