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Oxford University tests smart devices to detect heart problems

Prof Betts (L) with the smart tech

A project to test how effective smart devices are at detecting heart rhythm problems has received a grant of almost £150,000 from national charity Heart Research UK.

The project, which will recruit 50 patients at Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust, will assess whether smart rings and watches can offer an accurate and reliable way to detect atrial fibrillation (AF) and alert the patient.

AF is the most common heart rhythm problem, affecting an estimated two million people in the UK.

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It causes an irregular and fast heartbeat, which makes the heart pump poorly. As a result, blood clots may form inside the heart and, if they travel to the brain, can lead to an AF-related stroke. The risk of stroke in patients with AF is five times higher than in people with normal rhythm, according to the NHS.

As AF doesn’t always cause symptoms, so OUH wanted to find an accurate and reliable way to detect it and alert the patient is needed, so that anticoagulants, which can make the blood less likely to clot, but make patients more prone to bleeding, are taken only when required.

New technologies, such as small heart monitors placed under the skin, watches and rings, can track the heart rhythm continuously and send alerts. 

The Medtronic LINQ II implantable cardiac monitor (ICM) is a device the size of a paperclip that is injected under the skin and monitors the heart rhythm and can accurately detect AF. The latest Apple Watch has the ability to detect AF, as does the Sky Labs CART ring. All of these devices connect to a smartphone. 

This study, which is being led by OUH cardiology consultant Professor Timothy Betts (pictured left), will recruit 50 patients with AF and follow them for six months. All patients will receive an ICM.

In the first three months, Prof Betts and his team will see how well the ICM alerts the patient when AF is detected and how promptly the patient acknowledges the alert. 

After three months, each patient will be given either a Sky Labs CART ring or Apple Watch which will send alerts during AF episodes. The ICM will continue to monitor AF episodes and the team will see if the ring and watch are as good as the ICM at detecting AF, how well the ring and watch alert patients and if the alerts are acknowledged. 

The ultimate goal is to use the data collected to guide anticoagulant treatment so that AF patients take anticoagulation only when they need it.

Prof Betts said: “It is always fascinating to see advances in new technology and the wide range of applications that they can have. This project will allow us to understand if these new and innovative technologies can aid us in improving the treatment of the millions of people with AF in the UK.

“If successful, we will be able to tailor treatment to individual patients, increase the efficacy of treatment and reduce unnecessary medication. We are extremely grateful to Heart Research UK for funding this research.”

Kate Bratt-Farrar, Chief Executive of Heart Research UK, said: “We are delighted to be supporting the work of Professor Betts and his team, who are using cutting-edge technology to hopefully improve the lives of people living with the UK’s most common heart rhythm problem.

“Our grants are all about helping patients. They aim to bring the latest developments to those who need them as soon as possible. We are confident that Professor Betts’ project can bring about real and tangible improvements in how we treat patients, using technology that is both non-invasive and simple to use.”

Tags : heart problemsHeart Research UKOxford UniversityResearchsmart devicestechnology
Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke