Cloud-based monitoring could help prevent stroke

Grow MedTech is helping researchers at Sheffield Hallam University investigate the market need for a new technology that uses artificial intelligence and ‘Internet of Things’ connectivity to predict stroke risk.

The stroke risk monitoring service helps cardiologists to diagnose an abnormal heart rhythm, known as atrial fibrillation (AF). This irregular beat can cause blood clots to form which, as they travel towards the brain, can lead to stroke.

The researchers have developed a smartphone app which relays data from a wearable heart rate sensor to a cloud-based AI system.

The AI system uses a custom deep learning model to analyse the patient’s heart rate and triggers a warning within five-minutes to the patient’s cardiologist if an abnormal rhythm is detected.

Because AF is usually an intermittent condition the symptoms can easily be missed – even with regular check-ups. The stroke risk monitoring service provides continuous, real-time automated data collection and analysis which only alerts the cardiologist if a dangerous condition is detected.

The cardiologist can combine data from the AF monitoring and alerts with their own expertise and interactions with the patient to reach a diagnosis.

This approach is, in effect, a hybrid decision-making process, which uses the objectiveness and diligence of a deep learning system with human ability, drawing on a multitude of information sources to help reach the best decision for the patient.

In the UK more than 100,000 people suffer strokes each year, costing the NHS about £3bn. More than 1.2 million people in the UK have AF and all of these are at risk of stroke.

The Stroke Association says that AF contributes to just under 20 per cent of all strokes in the UK, so an early detection system could have clear benefits to both patients and to the NHS. 

Dr Oliver Faust, the lead developer, says: “We want to develop a system that can reduce stroke among these patient groups – in order to reach that goal, we need to develop a business plan and establish important commercial and clinical relationships.

This will help us to find out if patients, cardiologists and commercial developers would be open to adopting this innovative approach.”

The project team includes electrical and embedded systems engineers based in Sheffield Hallam’s Materials and Engineering Research Institute. The team has already been able to show that the system works well using pre-recorded data streams. If the market potential looks positive, they will be ready to take the next step and apply for further funding to test the technology with real patients.

Through a Grow MedTech Proof of Market grant, the researchers have been able to secure expert advice from a business innovation consultant, as well as project guidance from Grow MedTech’s Technology Innovation team.

Simon Butler, a Grow MedTech Technology Innovation Manager at Sheffield Hallam University, explains:

“We want to help researchers think more commercially, to assess potential market size and potential, for example. We’ve brought the project team together with a skilled business consultant with an international reputation in the medical device field.

Through this expertise, we’ll be able to help answer these key questions and guide the project’s commercial development. And by doing this at an early stage in the project, we can maximise the chances of success.”

Through the Proof of Market grant, the team will be able to identify potential commercial and clinical partners, assess the market size and start to discuss the technology with patient groups.

Also important will be discussing the system with device manufacturers, to ensure it will work seamlessly within the Internet of Things ‘ecosystem’.

Says Dr Faust: “Grow MedTech provides the necessary expertise in all these areas and with their support, we can ensure we are developing a service that will bring genuine benefit to both overburdened clinicans and at-risk patients.”