Innovators develop COVID-19 bracelet
October 7, 2020
MONTREAL – Researchers from Montreal’s McGill University, Université Laval, in Quebec City, and the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, have teamed up with Montreal-based iMD Research to create an affordable, user-friendly bracelet that monitors vital signs of patients in real-time. The device can detect abnormal vital signs and dispatch life-saving medical attention, if needed.
The team plans to deploy the device in nursing homes to monitor seniors for signs of COVID-19, including fever and respiratory distress.
Using biomedical sensing technology, circuit and system design and artificial intelligence (AI), the wearable device predicts the likelihood that the wearer will need to be hospitalized based on their vital signs. It can detect GPS location that eventually will help with the provinces’ contact tracing systems.
The research is being done through an internship program funded by Mitacs (www.mitacs.ca) – a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada. The program provides students with unique opportunities to work on real-world, leading-edge projects, while innovating companies such as iMD Research benefit from the ability to solve business challenges with the latest research solutions from academic institutions.
“Re-opening of Canada’s economy will in large part be dependent on the country’s ability to measure and monitor the fluctuation in COVID-19 cases, and this initiative could be of immense help to that effort,” said Sharmistha Bhadra, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at McGill University, and one of the academic supervisors of the project.
With statistics showing that about two to eight per cent of COVID-19 cases experience severe symptoms that lead to respiratory distress, organ failure and even death, the team is developing the bracelet to detect symptoms of the virus and help save lives.
“Across Canada, we saw issues in nursing homes that put seniors in troubling situations and left their loved ones worrying,” said Nathaniel Lasry, founder and scientific director of iMD Research, explaining that the goal of the wearable is not only to assist physicians and nurses but also to provide a level of comfort and peace of mind to loved ones.
“This device alerts the physician and nursing staff if a patient has sudden abnormal vital signs. Most of the time, it lets authorized family members know that their loved ones are ok. There are currently no commercial wearables that target seniors and easily provide this kind of reassuring information.”
Using the combination of biomedical sensing and AI, the bracelet along with its application software compile data on the patient’s heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels, temperature, movements and location. Based on the compiled data, the system can detect symptoms of COVID-19, such as the sudden onset of fever or respiratory distress. The wearer’s location is also measured to allow the dispatching of help and eventually enable contact tracing of COVID-19 patients.
For Shibam Debbarma, a Mitacs intern and student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at McGill University – who is working alongside fellow Mitacs interns Seyed Nabavi and Aref Pourzadi, both Postdoctoral Fellows at McGill University – this project provides an unprecedented opportunity. “I feel lucky to work on a project that is so beneficial to our society.”
Now in the prototype stage, the device is currently being tested by users in labs.
According to Mitacs chief business development officer, Eric Bosco, the Mitacs internship program – supported by federal, provincial and territorial government funding – is aimed at helping businesses succeed, with the majority of its partners being small- to medium-sized businesses.
“Many small businesses across Canada have unlocked the equation to scaling up their R&D efforts by using Mitacs,” said Bosco, noting that Mitacs business development professionals are trained to understand industry challenges and match a company’s needs to research expertise within universities and colleges across Canada.
The Mitacs internship program also benefits students, who overwhelmingly report improved academic experience and skills development, as well as increased employability beyond graduation, as a result of their internship experience. More than 80 per cent of Mitacs partner companies are small- and medium-sized businesses, and a recent study showed that more than two-thirds of former interns progress to career employment in R&D roles.
For more about Mitacs and its programs, visit mitacs.ca/newsroom.