With today’s mobile phones harbouring most of the luxuries we need and desire, from GPS, instant messaging to video recording, there’s very little that these smart computers in our pockets cannot do.
But can these devices be smart enough to be used for medical diagnosis?
This is a question that bothered a scientist.
Rajalakshmi Nandakumar, an India-born scholar in the USA, developed an app that can diagnose sleep apnea, using the microphones of everyday mobile phones!
Rajalakshmi worked at the Networks and Mobile Systems Laboratory at the Paul G Allen School of Computer Science at the University of Washington, USA, where she also completed her PhD. Her research papers explores the possibilities of unleashing the powers of active sonar, which also forms the basis of the app.
For this, Rajalakshmi used sonar propagation, similar to what bats use to navigate. The app transmits inaudible sound signals from the phone’s speaker which bounces off the user’s body. Combining this data reflected from the body with a multitude of algorithms and signal processing techniques, the breathing pattern and their cycle can be measured.
This measurement is important for those who suffer from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder, where the airway is obstructed due to over-relaxation of the tongue, thinning of the airway and even the presence of tonsils.
The app can let users know beforehand if they might suffer from sleep apnea before the condition gets out of hand, which could sometimes even lead to oxygen deprivation.
This non-intrusive, low-cost application, named the ApneaApp, could potentially benefit millions of people worldwide who suffer from such sleep disorders. Earlier methods used polysomnography, which is an extensive sleep study to analyse different factors like oxygen levels in your blood, heart rate, etc.
But Rajalakshmi has compared her app’s efficiency with that of polysomnography and claimed 98% accuracy in her device. The technology has been licensed by a leading provider to help patients detect sleep apnea from the comfort of their bedrooms, rather than expensive and uncomfortable sleep lab settings. The technology is also being tested to detect opioid overdoses.
Rajalakshmi had completed her BTech from the Guindy College of Engineering, Chennai, and worked as a research assistant at Microsoft India Research Centre in Bengaluru from 2011-13.
For her work in disruptive healthcare applications, she was one of the four individuals selected for the 2018 Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar award, and was awarded a prize amount of USD 5,000.
Hearty congratulations to the young scientist for innovating a versatile medical technology that enables the detection of potentially life-threatening health issues.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)