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A New Wearable Device For Diagnosis of Dysfunctional Breathing Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Smartlife Ltd

Optoelectronic Plethysmography

The University of Kent and Smartlifeinc Ltd are engaged in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). This is a scheme run through Innovate UK that partners businesses and universities to exchange knowledge by working on a specific project. Smartlife are a Manchester based company that specialise in wearable technology. They have developed innovative textile sensors, electronics and firmware with the capability of measuring the body’s bioelectrical signals. By integrating this technology into compression garments, Smartlife offer a comfortable and non-invasive method of measuring real time physiological data. The overall aim of this KTP is to develop a new garment with the same respiratory measurement capabilities as optoelectronic plethysmography for diagnosing dysfunctional breathing and possibly treatment.

Dysfunctional Breathing

Respiratory symptoms are the most common complaint amongst active individuals and athletes. These symptoms occur during exercise and include tight chest, wheezing, difficulty in breathing, and coughing. They can be due to a variety of conditions including cardio-pulmonary disease, anxiety and dysfunctional breathing. Although a large number of athletes have asthma related conditions (10-70% depending on the sport), it is estimated that 20-50% of asthma diagnosis in athletes are inappropriate and the symptoms are likely to be related to dysfunctional breathing instead. Dysfunctional breathing is an umbrella term used to describe various forms of thoracic and extrathoracic functional and structural limitations of breathing. Using appropriate methods of assessment, it is possible to objectively test for structural causes of dysfunctional breathing such as laryngeal obstruction. However, there is limited availability of assessments and equipment with the ability to easily and non-invasively record and identify functional limitations such as dysfunctional breathing patterns. This KTP project aims to develop a garment for diagnosis of dysfunctional breathing, and will create an algorithm capable of accurately estimating chest volume and chest wall movement for a range of activities across a number of populations including athletes, asthmatics, and COPD patients.

Optoelectronic plethysmography (OEP) is a non-invasive 3D motion capture system capable of measuring chest wall movements, estimating lung volumes, and may be used in the diagnosis of dysfunctional breathing. It involves placing up to 90 markers on the torso and the displacement of these markers are measured using infrared cameras providing an assessment of chest volume and variations in the chest wall compartments (pulmonary rib cage, abdominal rib cage and abdomen). This allows the assessment of breathing patterns, breathing asynchrony, and the contribution of each compartment to the chest volume. There is potential to develop specific assessments to diagnose dysfunctional breathing patterns utilising OEP, however, it is not practical for clinical settings due to the time-consuming nature of this method. Data collected using the OEP system at the University of Kent, combined with the respiratory signals recorded by Smartlife’s brain (hardware), should allow the development of a new garment capable of detecting features of dysfunctional breathing and allow for diagnosis. This KTP project also involves optimising the current OEP marker set. This will reduce the number of OEP markers required to accurately estimate respiratory movements and volumes. This will decrease the time of OEP set up and can be used for future development of Smartlife garments and University research.

Smartlife’s ambition is to become the market leaders in smart garment technology. This KTP is designed to help them achieve this by partnering with the University of Kent who have expertise in key aspects of physiological and biomechanical measurement.

Coaching Breathing Technique To further enhance the capability of Smartlife’s products, the KTP projects aims to investigate the feasibility of developing an app that would have the ability to coach breathing techniques to the user. This will provide the user with feedback on current breathing technique and advice on how to improve and ultimately optimise their breathing technique during exercise. Our initial focus is on developing a new garment for diagnosing dysfunctional breathing in athletes. The future aims of the KTP project are to expand the capabilities of the new Smartlife garment to diagnosing breathing dysfunctions in various pathological populations including asthmatics and COPD patients. Example of OEP data collection set up. Respiratory function is measured simultaneously by a spirometer, the current SL garment system, and the OEP system, during an exercise test.

Figure 1. 3D reconstruction of the torso from OEP data

@ Smartlife_HQ

Research Showcase - Kent KTP  
Research Showcase - Kent KTP