A device designed by a team of faculty and student researchers at Sheridan's Centre for Mobile Innovation (CMI) has the potential to impact the diagnosis of community-acquired pneumonia - a significant cause of death for children worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. NewPneu is a mobile health solution that's cost-effective, portable, easy to use and energy-efficient, all factors essential for use in low-resource communities.
The team at Milton, Ontario-based telehealth company, Tech4Life Enterprises, approached the CMI's Director, Dr. Edward Sykes, in 2017 about leveraging Sheridan's expertise through an applied research partnership. Principal Investigator, Dr. Tarek El Salti, a professor in Sheridan's Honours Bachelor of Computer Science (Mobile Computing) program and third-year student researcher, Warren Zajac, have since championed the project, bringing it from idea to proof of concept in just over a year. Financial support has been provided from Tech4Life and through a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grant.
NewPneu consists of a circuit board with biometric sensors to capture respiratory rate and blood-oxygen level (Sp02), two measurements commonly used to detect pneumonia in children, and an Android mobile health app to receive data via Bluetooth. Currently available pneumonia-detection systems are proprietary and cost approximately $990 EUR for the circuit board alone. Parts for Sheridan's NewPneu board cost only $10 USD. Commercially available products can run for 24 hours before requiring a charge, while NewPneu runs for up to 156 hours with energy efficient components.
With support from the Sheridan Research Ethics Board, the CMI team conducted human testing of NewPneu. Using a gold-standard, hospital-grade device for comparison, they gathered data from participants after three levels of physical activity - sitting, walking on a level surface and climbing a flight of stairs. In all three instances, the results from the gold-standard device and NewPneu were comparable with statistically significant correlations. "We were thrilled at this validation," says Dr. El Salti. "It's a testament to Warren's hardware and software design skills."
Tech4Life's Global CEO and Lead Researcher, Dr. Shariq Khoja, is impressed by the work of Sheridan's team in co-creating technology with potential to meaningfully address a major global health concern. "Sheridan's team has shown great expertise, designing a device that can be scaled for use globally," he says. "Health providers I've spoken with are intrigued by NewPneu and feel that it will strengthen health systems by empowering thousands of health providers in early diagnosis of pneumonia, saving the lives of young children."
While communities with low resources are the intended target, the CMI team is also mindful of its application for addressing overcrowded emergency rooms. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, concerns related to pneumonia was one of the top 10 reasons people visited emergency departments in 2017-18.
Imagine anyone having access to an inexpensive, user-friendly NewPneu device so that basic biometrics can be taken and sent to a local health provider to confirm whether the patient needs to seek medical attention. Hospitals won't be bogged down with people who don't need emergency care."
Dr. Tarek El Salti, professor in Sheridan's Honours Bachelor of Computer Science (Mobile Computing) program
With the viability of the CMI's design, it puts into questions why such a device hasn't yet been created and commercialized. "There's a lot of catching up to be done when it comes to innovations in healthcare," says Dr. El Salti. "Addressing health-related issues from a medical perspective is one thing, but technology has a role to play. Interdisciplinary approaches like the one we take at the Centre for Mobile Innovation can bring about these cutting-edge solutions." Zajac adds: "NewPneu is novel because it works with any Android device - something many people have access to these days - so the costs are automatically reduced by removing the need for a screen. Sometimes it's a matter of applying technology we use every day in meaningful ways."
NewPneu is catching the attention of members of medical and technology communities around the world. In October, Dr. El Salti and Zajac presented the system at the 10th annual IEEE Annual Information Technology, Electronics and Mobile Communication Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. This December, they've been invited to present at the 2019 Global Digital Health Forum in Bethesda, Maryland in front of thousands of healthcare and technology professionals.