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University of Hawaii using Agilent Equipment for Patient Monitoring Research

The Hawaii Center for Advanced Communications (HCAC) at the University of Hawaii - Manoa is working with microwave instrumentation from Agilent Technologies to develop new applications in healthcare and remote patient monitoring.

For the past 10 years, Dr. Magdy Iskander of the University of Hawaii at Manoa has been in a position of leadership as the Director of the Hawaii Center for Advanced Communications (HCAC). His vision for HCAC is simple; to be a leading center for wireless communications and radar technology research. HCAC research interests include antenna and phased antenna array designs, smart antennas, propagation modeling, and the integration of Digital Signal Processing (DSP) capabilities for enhanced communications and radar technologies.

An important part of that vision, Dr. Iskander strives for joint research and educational activities that promote national and international collaboration and partnerships with industry leaders including Agilent Technologies.

The HCAC also plays an important role in the local community. While research pays the bills, community outreach is near to Dr. Iskander’s heart. HCAC’s programs serve local students and encourage commerce in the community. With NSF and state funding, the HCAC provides multimedia modules aimed at implementing a wireless technology curriculum within middle school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) classes and donates laptops, iPods, network equipment, and various wireless sensors. The goal is to generate interest in science and technology with middle schoolers by giving them the opportunity to investigate how things around them work. Case in point, every student is familiar with smartphones, but they probably don’t know much about the underlying workings of antennas, wireless communication technology, and electrical fields. In all, 28 Hawaiian schools on 5 islands are participating in the program.

The HCAC Microwave Stethoscope Project: Lowering Healthcare Costs

An example of the exciting research being done at the HCAC is a medical project to develop an integrated solution for measuring multiple vital signs and, in particular, detecting the changes in the lung water content which can be an early sign of problems such as congestive heart failure. While the changes in the lung water content can be measured today using expensive techniques such as MRI and CAT scans, the HCAC is prototyping a “microwave stethoscope” that will provide valuable diagnostic information at a much lower cost. “This new technology will enable monitoring of residents in remote and under-privileged areas that lack access to healthcare,” states Dr. Iskander. “In addition, it allows for preventative care and will help people before they get sick.” Non-invasive patient monitoring with the microwave stethoscope could be done via a nurse home-visit or at a local kiosk. In either case, the data could be easily uploaded wirelessly to a doctor or hospital for evaluation, potentially identifying a problem and keeping the patient out of the hospital.

This low cost method for measuring vital signs is especially useful for measuring changes in lung water content in patients with lung abnormalities, heart problems, burn victims, or those monitoring their recovery from previous illnesses.

The key to this new approach is the measurement of ‘reflection coefficients’. Using harmless low-power microwaves, the microwave stethoscope design makes use of specialized sensors, advanced DSP algorithms and an integrated low-power, low-cost network analyzer from Agilent to collect the subject’s vital signs. “What was prohibitively expensive in the 1980s is now within reach,” states Dr. Iskander. “This unique application of Agilent test equipment makes it possible.”

Partnership with Agilent

The HCAC team has a longstanding working relationship with Agilent Technologies. “This has been a tremendous opportunity for collaboration with Agilent,” notes Dr. Iskander. “We use Agilent test equipment in virtually every lab in our center. For our Microwave Stethoscope project, Agilent’s portable measurement device is a key component to this medical application.” The Microwave Stethoscope team has been using bench top Agilent PNA-X microwave network analyzers in their research lab. Going forward, this new solution will likely depend on advanced signal analysis software along with Agilent’s portable and cost-effective FieldFox handheld network analyzers.

“What stands out about Agilent in my mind is that, as a company, they focus on creating robust, high quality solutions,” states Dr. Iskander. “Agilent won’t bring a product to market before it has been thoroughly tested and carefully qualified by their customers.”

Looking to the future

Preliminary results have already demonstrated that the HCAC microwave stethoscope can accurately measure key vital signs from a single microwave measurement including breathing rate, heart rate, EKG, and lung water content changes. If Dr. Iskander’s vision comes to fruition, even those living in remote areas will have access to easy, low-cost, non-invasive tools that will help predict potential medical problems. The microwave stethoscope just might be the long term solution to cost effective healthcare patient monitoring.

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