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Providing accurate ways of monitoring children's respiration

Our client, Sheffield Children's Hospital, identified a need to develop new equipment to monitor the respiration activity of patients. Because of the difficulties in measuring respiration with existing methods, such as discomfort and stress, respiration is not always recorded in medical examinations.

The development of an accurate non-contact system therefore has very important healthcare benefits. They approached our Materials and Engineering Research Institute (MERI) for help.

What we did

Assisted by Dr Reza Saatchi, PhD student Abdulkadir Hamidu Alkali took on the task of designing and developing the equipment as part of his PhD in Medical Electronics.

Abdulkadir explains, 'Existing respiration monitoring systems are contact based and inaccurate. Their sensing element is also attached to the patient's body, creating discomfort and stress. This stress can affect the recording of a patient's respiration rate.'

Abdulkadir developed a new, cutting edge '4fa' respiration monitoring technique. 4fa works through recording thermal imagery of the patients as they breathe. It has the ability to identify areas of the face affected by respiration and from there it can monitor and record a patient's respiration. The design also has the unique ability to identify and constantly track the patient's face without being distracted by other heat signals in the background.

The result

The technique can monitor breathing amongst patients who have a higher medical risk. Its wireless, non-invasive approach combined with its accuracy in monitoring respiration makes it a perfect replacement for the existing methods, and is especially suitable for long-term monitoring.

It also enables a potentially vulnerable patient, such as a child, to be more comfortable in a hospital environment while breathing is being monitored.

The equipment has potential to make a real impact in the medical world, with opportunities for it to be introduced into in a range of different medical environments such as NHS hospitals as well as developing countries.

They say

Knowing the respiratory rate in children is very important because if it is not normal, the nurse looking after the child knows that he or she may be seriously ill. Currently there is no simple electronic device which can measure respiratory rate automatically.


Abdulkadir will further refine the technique by performing studies on children on the sleep unit at Sheffield Children’s Hospital. In the future, we aim to develop Abdulkadir’s technique further which will enable nurses to easily measure each child’s respiratory rate so that the most seriously ill children will be identified earlier and get correct treatment more quickly. This will ensure that the right children get admitted to intensive care units sooner and, in some cases, child deaths will be prevented.

Heather Elphick, Sheffield Children's Hospital


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