Georgia Tech researchers develop patch to track heart failure

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We have wearable devices and smartphone apps that track our workouts, and the number of steps we take each day.

Now, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta are developing a wearable device that could help heart failure patients and their doctors track how their heart is functioning.

Omer Inan, an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, has been developing a patch for the last 5 years with a $2.86 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. A team of researchers at Georgia Tech, the University of California at San Francisco and Northwestern University. The device is designed to continuously track how our hearts respond to daily activities, like walking or climbing the stairs.

"So we measure the small movements of the chest wall," Inan says.  "Those small movements are kind of like seismic vibrations of the earth in response to an earthquake.  So every time your heart is beating, there is almost these tiny earthquakes inside your chest."

About 5 million Americans are living with chronic heart failure, which means their hearts and vascular systems cannot pump the way they should.

Inan says people with heart failure often spend long stints in the hospital, and have to check in with their doctors regularly, to monitor their heart function.

"In the doctor's office, you're usually just sitting there, unless you're putting on a lot of equipment and performing what's called an exercise stress test," he says.  "And that's just really expensive. It's hard.  We'd like people to be able to do micro stress tests everywhere. So, when you walk across the street in the Atlanta heat, we'd like to know how your heart responded to that."

In Walnut Creek, in northern California, Yves Collafarina, who is now 55, was one of the first patients to try the wearable monitor, as part of a research study at the University of California at San Francisco.
His heart began failing at 45, something he expected after losing his dad at 49. Collafarina was an avid flyer, constantly traveling for business. But, he says, his heart problems put an end to that.

"The last time I traveled was in 2017, and since then, I stay home," Collaforina says.  "That's the big limitation."

At UCSF Medical Center, Collafarina's cardiologist Dr. Liviu Klein was part of the team that tested the device in about 200 patients with heart failure.

"The patient doesn't want to see you every day, they don't want to come in every day," Dr. Klein says. "So, if you can have daily data from the patient's heart, then we can have an idea about their heart function, and we can make changes in their medication."

Most heart failure patients have to weigh themselves each day, to help their cardiologists stay on top of their heart function. Collafarina says this patch did all the work.

"If I had used that at the beginning, it would have been great, because you don't wait until you have symptoms or wait until you don't feel good, or feel lightheaded," Collafarina says.  "You have this machine, where it gives you information.  That's what we need, information."

Dr. Klein says the wearable device has performed well in clinical studies.

"The whole goal is to predict a heart event before it happens," he says.

In March, a decade after his heart began to fail, Yves Collafarina got a lifeline: a heart transplant.
The difference, he says, is remarkable.

"Night and day!" Collafarina says. "I go hiking.  I can move now!"

His long term goal is to be able to fly across the country, just like he used to.
"To me, I just need to travel again," he says.