The Malta Independent 25 August 2019, Sunday

Maltese company could revolutionise medical investigations with tattoo-like heart sensor

Rebecca Iversen Sunday, 10 September 2017, 10:30 Last update: about 3 years ago

A temporary tattoo based on proprietary technology developed by a Maltese company that monitors a patient’s heart, could revolutionise medical investigations in the future.

Cardiologist Dr Robert Xuereb spoke to The Malta Independent on Sunday about the tattoo-like sensor that could replace the currently used and bulkier Holter monitor, and still provide all the information doctors need to monitor a patient’s heart, over a period of time.

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The technology’s developer, Umana Medical Technologies, is a Maltese enterprise, which has been working on the technology for a while now, has created a tiny device, dubbed the ‘Umana T1’ that wirelessly captures and analyses in real-time the cardiac electrical activity (ECG) in a non-invasive manner.

The sensor works by monitoring patients’ heartbeat and heart rhythm and changes. The data is then transferred wirelessly to an application, which can be downloaded on a normal smartphone, through a small flexible interface (the T1 Box) placed on top of the tattoo-like sensor. The app then records and analyses the ECG signal in real-time.

Dr Xuereb spoke about the current system in place, which has been used since the 1990s, a mobile ambulatory system called a Holter monitoring system, which is a rather bulky contraption with electrodes, wires and a large monitor that are not so practical or comfortable in warm climates such as Malta’s. Such monitoring systems are used for stretches of either 24 hours, 48 hours or seven days.

Dr Xuereb, who is the Chair of the Department of Cardiology and President of Maltese Cardiac Society, explains, “We need this sort of machinery for patients who, for example, faint and have lost consciousness and we need to know why. If their heart has slowed down, the patient may need a pacemaker. If the heart is beating too fast, it could be there isn’t enough flow to the brain – resulting in loss of consciousness, in which case the patient may need medication. Or there could be other reasons at play.

“With this nice tiny device, it would be much more comfortable, more durable and just easier for the patient in general. This truly opens up new horizons in which patients can monitor their hearts and we can link to the data and analyse it too.”

Dr Xuereb spoke about his team’s next plans with this new piece of technology: “The company approached us as it wants to verify if the device is as accurate as the Holter systems we use now. Therefore, we will be carrying out a study in which patients will have both the Holter and Umana T1 systems and they will be interpreted independently to see how accurate this new device truly is.

“There is more research being done not just in heart monitoring but also for blood pressure monitoring. I truly feel this is the future for cardiology.”

He added, “I think this is the future, more electronics, more computers, more personalised medicine. The time will come when everyone will be running around with a wristwatch able to check heart, blood pressure and what’s going on in our body. This is the future of medicine.”

Dr Xuereb confirmed that heart disease still remains the number one killer in Malta and believes that such medical technology could allow doctors and even patients to detect heart problems earlier and as such be able to treat patients as early as possible.

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