Chronic illness affects more people than other diseases in Taiwan. In fact, according to Taipei City's Department of Health, seven of the 10 leading causes of death are chronic diseases and 64.3% of deaths are due to chronic diseases. Following the recent trend of smartization in the healthcare sector, the BEAR Lab team, led by Hsin Hsiu, chairman of Graduate Institute of Biomedical Engineering, National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (NTUST), built a high-precision pulse analyzer that collects blood flow measurements from different parts of the body through wearable devices the patient puts on. It then performs AI-based analyses to provide extremely accurate results. Through assistance from the Taiwan Tech Global Research & Industry Alliance (Taiwan Tech GLORIA) project, the BEAR Lab team has initiated collaborations with medical institutions and leading medical device suppliers at home and abroad to put their pulse analyzer to use at hospitals, in communities and in people's homes.
Hsiu started devoting himself to the research on chronic illness detection 17 years ago. The healthcare industry began to embrace a wave of smartization in 2014, incorporating a multitude of information technology (IT) applications with wearable devices among them as well. However, for usability and practicality reasons, these applications have yet to enjoy widespread use. The pulse analyzer developed by the BEAR Lab team after years of research is built on top of solid hardware and software strength in addition to close clinical collaborations with medical institutions. Through continuing refinements, the BEAR Lab team was able to quickly boost the accuracy delivered by the pulse analyzer.
BEAR Lab (Bio Electronic Application and Research Laboratory) is committed to advanced research in the field of biomedical electronics. The BEAR Lab team's pulse analyzer works by measuring arterial pulse waveforms and then performing AI-based analyses on the signals. It can be used for wide-ranging healthcare purposes. Hsiu noted that blood transports nutrients and oxygen to cells throughout the body and plays a vital role to normal body operation. The human body responds to changes by making adjustments in order to maintain a constant and balanced internal environment. Regulating blood flow is a way to make such adjustments. When blood circulation in a certain part of the body shows irregularity, it may be an indication that something is wrong, possibly cancer or dementia. The pulse analyzer can measure pulse waveforms and detect irregularity. However, due to the instable nature of blood-flow waveforms and the intricate human body, it is very challenging to discern signals from noise. The BEAR Lab team said it is the first in the world to achieve accurate signal reading.
The BEAR Lab team's pulse analyzer currently targets four use areas, including cardiovascular disease and cancer detection as well as long-term care and rehabilitation therapy. In cancer detection, it can identify stage 0 to 2 breast cancer with 99% accuracy. In long-term care, it can achieve 99% accuracy in dementia case identification. Aside from its high precision, Hsiu highlighted the pulse analyzer's advanced features and usability as its additional advantages. Taking dementia case identification for example, Hsiu pointed out medical professionals currently diagnose dementia by having patients fill out assessment forms and make a determination based on evaluation results. The pulse analyzer, on the other hand, relies on physiological data and makes a more objective judgement based on blood-flow waveforms. It also enables more refined classification of disease severity and progression. Furthermore, the pulse analyzer is quick and easy to use. It only takes the pulse analyzer two minutes to come up with the result, a significant improvement over most medical-grade wearable devices currently in use that require patients to wear them for an extended period of time.
BEAR Lab may have developed advanced technologies that are ahead of the rest of the world, but the NTUST team has long focused on doing research in the lab and knows little about marketing and promotion, indicated Hsiu. With limited time, resource and staff, it is not easy for the team to find the right industry partners. The team participated in the GLORIA project in 2018, which helped bring the team to the attention of medical institutions and leading high-tech firms at home and abroad. It has now engaged in collaborations with large hospitals in Taiwan to collect clinical data in the four target use areas to help further enhance accuracy. Going forward, the team will continue to work with medical institutions while endeavoring to expand the use of the pulse analyzer into communities and homes. It will also look to integrate the pulse analyzer with consumer electronics and rehab equipment, bringing healthcare closer to people's everyday life.
Hsin Hsiu, head of BEAR Lab
Photo: Digitimes staff, January 2020