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Microwaves could replace electrodes for monitoring vital signs


November 11, 2010

Electrodes could become a thing of the past, thanks to new research into the use of microwaves (Photo: Rennett Stowe, CC 2.0)

Electrodes could become a thing of the past, thanks to new research into the use of microwaves (Photo: Rennett Stowe, CC 2.0)

In the not-so-distant future, patients having their heart rate or other vital signs monitored may not have to be wired up with electrodes. Scientists Atsushi Mase and Daisuke Nagae, at Kyushu University in Japan, have developed a method of remotely measuring such data using microwaves. This means that people would be free to move around as they were being monitored, or in some applications, would not even know that it was happening.

The Kyushu system works by irradiating the patient’s body with very weak microwaves. A microwave sensor detects the waves as they reflect back. The phase of the reflected waves will change in response to motions in the body, such as the subtle rising and falling of the chest as caused by breathing or a beating heart. Signal processing algorithms are incorporated to filter out other random body movements.

Mase and Nagae have successfully used their system to detect changes in a test subject’s heart rate in near real-time. “We plan to apply the system to various conditions, including for clinical use – such as for the overnight monitoring of human vital signs – and as a daily health monitor, including detecting signs of sleepiness in drivers and preventing stress-related illnesses," he said.

It has also been suggested that the technology could be used in airport security, to detect the subtle signs of stress exhibited by potential terrorists.

The research was recently published in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

This sounds like bad news in terms of long term health risk posed to hospital staff with regular extended exposure. While it might be useful in situations like hospital bathrooms, I worry, however, about long term exposure even to weak radiation as an under rated heath risk.

Charles Bosse

A microwave oven uses power in the range of more than a kilowatt, what they are talking about sounds more like power in the range of a cell phone. A Microwave oven\'s dangerous waves are stopped or mitigated by a metal mesh on the glass door. So far, no complaints. But on a positive note this is what Dr. McCoy was using in the `1960\'s tv show Star Trek, was it not? Remote patient monitoring will be here soon, it would be cool to have it on the Airship Enterprise to aid it\'s authenticity. Wade.

Ronald Cooper
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