Tool will transform care of children with breathing problems

Issue date: 19 March 2009


Principal investigator, Lyndon Smith with an early prototype A non invasive instrument to monitor the breathing of very young children with respiratory problems is being developed by researchers at the University of the West of England, in partnership with Bristol University and consultants at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust's Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and Frenchay Hospital. This is a multidisciplinary research project which will involve clinicians and patients at the early stages of development, to ensure that the instrument meets end-user requirements.

The project is being funded by the National Institute for Health Research, through the i4i Invention for Innovation Programme. i4i aims to improve the identification of promising healthcare technologies and accelerate the development of new healthcare products for the 21st century.

Dr Lyndon Smith from UWE's Machine Vision Lab is the principal investigator, working on developing a system that he says will revolutionise how breathing is monitored. He said: “Currently young children with breathing problems are usually monitored via a combination of bands strapped around the chest and abdomen that need to be attached to computers to enable doctors and nurses to measure breathing. The beauty of the new system is that it will record similar measurements as current equipment without the need to attach various instruments to the child.

“We will be using a method called dynamic photometric stereo. This involves combining a camera with specially positioned lighting to create structured illumination of the body surface. The resulting images will then be processed and analysed to enable the 3D shape of the human torso to be recovered. Real-time imaging created using structured light helps us to make the effect 4D, which enables us to detect and measure the movements of the chest and abdomen in real time.”

Co-investigator Professor Melvyn Smith, Director of the Machine Vision Lab commented that, “Other measurement techniques have in the past been developed by projecting a series of lines over the body but such an approach is limited as it requires the use of lasers and produces low resolution data. Our system will be eye-safe and will provide the higher resolution measurements needed to model the respiration process. Once the changes in size, shape and volume of the chest have been measured, it will be necessary to develop a model that will relate this to the flow/volume of respired air and respiratory muscle function. Other advantages include the most obvious one that measurements can be taken in a non-invasive way, without the need to attach instruments to the child that can cause stress.”

Dr Olena Doran of the UWE Institute of Bio-Sensing Technology (Co-investigator), identified a number of additional advantages of the proposed approach: “The system will be easy to set up and use so it will be easy to train clinical practitioners to operate. Also there will not be as many hygiene issues since the instrument is used remotely. The final advantage is that this instrument uses low cost readily available technology which assists with accessibility. Once the tests have been completed the system could be further developed and made widely available.”

The UWE team is working closely with Mr Robert Warr, a consultant plastic surgeon at Bristol's Frenchay Hospital. Mr Warr has had a close collaboration with the Machine Vision Lab for some years and is impressed at the potential to use photometric stereo in various ways to help with diagnostics and monitoring.

Mr Warr said: “I am very excited at the potential to develop a non-invasive tool to measure breathing in young children and babies with respiratory diseases. This is a complex problem and we will conduct initial tests on adults. I'm extremely impressed at the potential for using 4D photometric stereo - the work that the UWE Machine Vision team do is very well suited to a whole range of medical applications. If we can develop a non-invasive tool this will transform the way we monitor respiration of babies and young children by providing a less stressful procedure that is easy and hygienic to use.”

The full project team consists of Dr Lyndon Smith, Reader in Computer Simulation and Machine Vision, and Co-investigators Professor Melvyn Smith Director of the Machine Vision Laboratory, Dr Olena Doran, Coordinator of the Institute of Bio-Sensing Technology, Dr Margaret Fletcher, Reader in Children's Nursing, School of Health and Social Care, Dr John Henderson, Reader and Consultant in Paediatric Respiratory Medicine at Bristol University, Dr Tom Hilliard, Consultant in Respiratory Paediatrics at Bristol Children's Hospital and Mr Robert Warr, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at Frenchay Hospital. The project is supported by the Instrumentation Knowledge Transfer Network, which will facilitate commercialisation of the instrument.

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