One small strip of plaster, one giant strip of data

A wireless digital "plaster" that monitors vital signs is being tested on patients and volunteers at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in a new clinical trial run by Imperial College London.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read
A wireless digital 'plaster' that monitors vital signs is being tested on patients and volunteers at Imperial College London. Toumaz Technology

When you go to the doctor and you get your heart rate or blood pressure taken, the resulting data is narrow, since the measurements are taken of you doing just one thing: sitting still. True monitoring throughout someone's typical daily activities has until now been something of a pipe dream.

All that could be about to change.

A range of vital signs, including body temperature, heart rate, and respiration, is currently being monitored--continuously and remotely--by a small strip of digital plaster affixed to a patient's chest, neck, and/or arm.

Toumaz Technology, which develops wireless monitoring systems, announced this week that it has begun clinical trials of its device, based on the company's Advanced Mixed Signal semiconductor IP platform and using its Sensium wireless technology, on both patients and healthy volunteers at St. Mary's Hospital in London.

Each strip should last several days:

AMx is a technology that is extremely power efficient," says Toumaz Technology co-founder Keith Errey. "The amount of power it uses is only a few tens of milliwatts per hour stored, so we can use very lightweight, low-cost printed batteries that allow the plasters to be both wearable and disposable.

Sensium technology, which has already earned Europe's CE mark in Toumaz's Life Pebble non-disposable body worn monitoring devices, is designed for Medical Body Area Networks. The new, disposable strip could work in a range of settings--acute care, general ward environments, tele-care, chronic disease monitoring, and in-care home settings.

"This technology has the potential to improve the capturing of patient's vital signs within all areas of the hospital, enabling key physiological data to be acquired at an increased frequency, with the minimum of inconvenience to patients, and without the requirement to connect patients to immobile pieces of equipment," says Dr. Stephen Brett, a consultant in Intensive Care Medicine at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and a leader of this trial.

Errey says one potential challenge is managing the huge amounts of data generated by this monitor. That could be overcome by using a server to send the messages back to nurses from the ward, rather than storing the information.

Initial trial results are expected by the end of 2009.