Drone AED deliveries and digestible sleep sensors

Drones equipped with defibrillators may help save lives

Researchers have evaluated the possibility of alerting drones equipped with automated external defibrillators (AED) to patients with suspected cardiac arrest. In more than half of the cases, the drones were ahead of the ambulance by an average of three minutes. In cases where the patient was in cardiac arrest, the drone-delivered defibrillator was used in a majority of cases.

Swedish researchers at Karolinska Institutet evaluated the use of drones equipped with AEDs to get to the scene faster than an ambulance and found some impressive results. The investigators have been published in the journal The Lancet Digital Health.

“The use of an AED is the single most important factor in saving lives,” said principal study investigator Andreas Claesson, who is an Associate Professor at the Center for Cardiac Arrest Research at the Department of Clinical Research and Education, Södersjukhuset, Karolinska Institutet. “We have been deploying drones equipped with AED since the summer of 2020 and show in this follow-up study that drones can arrive at the scene before an ambulance by several minutes. This lead time has meant that the AED could be used by people at the scene in several cases.”

Although an early shock with an AED can dramatically increase the chance of survival and there are tens of thousands of AEDs in many cities, they are not available in people’s homes where most cardiac arrests occur. The current project covered an area of approximately 200,000 people in western Sweden. An initial study conducted in the summer of 2020 in Gothenburg and Kungälv showed that the idea was feasible and safe.

“This more comprehensive and follow-up study now shows in a larger material that the methodology works throughout the year, summer and winter, in daylight and darkness. Drones can be alerted, arrive, deliver AED, and people on-site have time to use the AED before the ambulance arrives,” said first author Sofia Schierbeck, who is with the Karolinska Institutet.

In the study, drones delivered an AED in 55 cases of suspected cardiac arrest. In 37 of these cases (67%), the delivery took place before an ambulance, with a median lead of 3 minutes and 14 seconds. In the 18 cases of actual cardiac arrest, the caller managed to use the AED in six cases (33%). A shock was recommended by the device in two cases and in one case the patient survived.

“Our study now shows once and for all that it is possible to deliver AED with drones and that this can be done several minutes before the arrival of the ambulance in connection with acute cardiac arrest,” said Claesson. “This time saving meant that the healthcare emergency center could instruct the person who called the ambulance to retrieve and use the AED in several cases before the ambulance arrived.”

New ingestible electronic device may help detect breathing issues

Diagnosing sleep disorders such as sleep apnea usually requires a patient to spend the night in a sleep lab, hooked up to a variety of sensors and monitors. Researchers from MIT, Celero Systems, and West Virginia University now hope to make that process less intrusive, using an ingestible capsule they developed that can monitor vital signs from within the patient’s GI tract.

The capsule, which is about the size of a multivitamin, uses an accelerometer to measure the patient’s breathing rate and heart rate. In addition to diagnosing sleep apnea, the device could also be useful for detecting opioid overdoses in individuals at high risk.

“It’s an exciting intervention to help people be diagnosed and then receive the appropriate treatment if they suffer from obstructive sleep apnea,” said Giovanni Traverso, an Associate Professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass. “The device also has the potential for early detection of changes in respiratory status, whether it’s a result of opiates or other conditions that could be monitored, like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”

In a study with 10 volunteers, the researchers showed that the capsule can be used to monitor vital signs and to detect sleep apnea episodes, which occur when the patient repeatedly stops and starts breathing during sleep. The patients did not show any adverse effects from the capsule, which passed harmlessly through the digestive tract.

Over the past decade, the research team has developed a range of ingestible sensors that could be used to monitor vital signs and diagnose disorders of the GI tract, such as gastrointestinal slowdown and inflammatory bowel diseases. This new study focused on measuring vital signs, using a capsule that included an accelerometer. It detects slight movements generated by the beating of the heart and the expansion of the lungs. The capsule also contains two small batteries and a wireless antenna that transmit data to an external device such as a laptop.

“What we were able to show is that using the capsule, we could capture data that matched what the traditional transdermal sensors would capture,” Traverso says. “We also observed that the capsule could detect apnea, and that was confirmed with standard monitoring systems that are available in the sleep lab.”

None of the patients reported any discomfort or harm from the capsule. Radiographic imaging performed 14 days after the capsules were ingested revealed that all of them had passed through the patients’ bodies. The research team’s previous work has shown that objects of similar size usually move through the digestive tract in a little more than a day.

The researchers envision that this kind of sensor could be used to diagnose sleep apnea in a less intrusive way than the skin-based sensors that are now used. It could also be used to monitor patients when they begin treatment for apnea to make sure that the treatments are effective.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at medicalminutes@gmail.com.

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

  • Email: medicalminutes@gmail.com

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