Invention wins academics prize

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 June, 2010, 12:00am

Two academics have invented a non-invasive way to diagnose a deadly heart condition, saving patients a risky procedure.

To diagnose pulmonary hypertension - high blood pressure in the pulmonary artery between the heart and lungs - a tube is normally inserted through a blood vessel and into the right side of the heart. But this can cause massive bleeding, with a 1 to 2 per cent chance of the patient dying.

Two Institute of Education academics have found a way to detect the disease through the patient's heartbeat, which as well as being cheaper and less dangerous, they say enables earlier diagnosis, giving patients a better chance of survival. At present, 47 to 55 per cent of patients die within five years of diagnosis.

Professor Joanne Chung Wai-yee, head of the institute's department of health and physical education and one of the inventors, said catheterisation was expensive and there was a one-year wait in public hospitals.

Many patients' conditions had deteriorated too far by the time they received a diagnosis. 'If patients can be diagnosed earlier, we can teach them how to improve their health by conserving energy, such as by breathing properly and changing the schedule of daily activities,' she said.

The invention recently won a silver prize in the Korea International Women's Invention Exposition 2010.

Chung said studies had shown the sound of the heartbeat was related to the level of pressure. With Assistant Professor Chen Jinghan, she connected a special stethoscope to a computer system. Software they designed analysed the pattern of the digitised signal from the stethoscope, calculating the pulmonary blood pressure.

Chung said they were now in talks with manufacturers about mass production of the system. She said it could eventually be turned into a machine the size of a mobile phone.

'One must be a cardiologist to do catheterisation, but everyone can test their own heartbeat using this simple machine. It is as simple as testing other types of blood pressure,' she said.