The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

The Non-Invasive Vital Sign monitoring project enters its second stage

Thursday, 9 September 2021, 11:41 Last update: about 2 months ago

Dr Nicole Grech

The Non-Invasive Vital Signs (NIVS) Monitoring project is a collaborative project between the University of Malta's Centre for Biomedical Cybernetics and Mater Dei Hospital. The project is a study aiming to extract data regarding the rate and rhythm at which the heart beats as well as data regarding breathing patterns from short video samples. The eventual aim of this is the ability to monitor patients in hospitals with a camera as opposed to the traditional way involving multiple wires and electrodes attached to the skin, which cause discomfort and limit movement.

The underlying principle behind the extraction of heart rate data from videos taken from a normal camera is that the skin blushes pink with every fresh flow of blood from the heart. Although this is too subtle to detect with the naked eye, special algorithms can be applied to the videos to demonstrate this phenomenon much more clearly. With regards to breathing data, a thermal imaging camera, which is a special camera that captures heat coming from the body, is used to detect subtle changes in the temperature of the area around the nostrils when a person exhales. These changes can be magnified to extract and derive a breathing rate and pattern from them.

Although this process sounds relatively simple, and many different algorithms have been developed to achieve this goal, many limitations are preventing this technology from being used in a more widespread manner. Examples of problems encountered include patient movement, which may cause the area of the face that was being used to extract data to move or become occluded to the camera, changes in light conditions which can affect the way the algorithm processes data and the incapability of modern algorithms to handle large quantities of data in a short enough time such as is provided by continuous video monitoring.

The NIVS project is attempting to overcome some of these limitations by testing data from real world hospital scenarios and developing algorithms to overcome the problems that have been described in the literature previously. The first stage of this project involved collecting data in a laboratory setting from healthy volunteers. Videos were taken of consenting adult persons in varying light intensity and with the participants performing natural movements to simulate the normal conditions that would be encountered in a hospital ward.

The second stage of this project is currently underway with data being collected from the Intensive Care Unit (ITU) at Mater Dei Hospital. Patients are asked to consent to participation, or, in the case of patients who are unable to consent due to their clinical condition, relatives are asked to consent in their place. The aim at this stage is to collect video clips while normal care is ongoing in the ITU so that algorithms can be developed which can extract heart rate and breathing rate data even in relatively busy environments where a lot is often happening at once. Ten-minute video clips of the patients are captured while they can move normally, speak to relatives and participate in physiotherapy sessions. Patient care is not disturbed in any way. At the same time that the videos are being captured, heart rate and breathing rate data are recorded so that these values will be used to compare the accuracy of the new remote monitoring system which is being developed. Videos taken within Mater Dei Hospital will not be published on social media, and images or video clips would only be used for scientific research and published in scientific literature only if the person shown in the images explicitly gives their permission.

The team working on this project include staff members from both the University of Malta and Mater Dei Hospital, with different backgrounds and roles in order to provide complementary inputs to the project. Dr Owen Falzon, from the Centre of Biomedical Cybernetics, is the project coordinator, Prof. Kenneth Camilleri, director of the Centre for Biomedical Cybernetics, is a co-investigator and Dr Abedelkader Helwan, who joined the University of Malta recently to work on this project, make up the technical team. Prof. Jean Calleja Agius, head of the Department of Anatomy in the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at the University, is contributing to the clinical aspect of this research. Dr Stephen Sciberras and Dr Nicole Grech from Mater Dei Hospital are involved in collecting clinical data from the ITU.

Further information about this project can also be obtained from the project's Facebook page NIVS project or by sending an email to [email protected]


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