A team of researchers yesterday unveiled an artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted blood flow volume sensor for people receiving hemodialysis to help allow early treatment when arteriovenous fistulas become obstructed.
The sensor, developed through six years of effort, was introduced by Paul Chao (趙昌博), a distinguished professor in National Chiao Tung University’s department of electrical and computer engineering, at a news conference at the Ministry of Science and Technology in Taipei.
The number of people receiving dialysis last year reached a record 90,000, with their medical costs totaling NT$44.9 billion (US$1.47 billion), Chao said, citing Ministry of Health and Welfare data.
Photo: Chien Hui-ju, Taipei Times
Taiwan, which is often called the “island of dialysis,” has much lower dialysis costs than other nations, but patients still need to visit a hospital three times a week and spend more than NT$600,000 per year for the treatment, Shin Kong Wu Ho-su Memorial Hospital dialysis center director Lin Bing-shi (林秉熙) said.
An arteriovenous fistula, which is created surgically in people with kidney disease to connect their blood system to a dialysis machine, is the “lifeline” of a dialysis patient, and it might cause complications, or even death if it is blocked, he said.
To help patients monitor their blood flow volume, the team developed a non-invasive sensor using photoplethysmography (PPG) — an optical measurement method — along with a mobile app that can be connected to hospital systems, Chao said.
Existing sensors are either invasive or ultrasonic, which have to be operated by medical professionals, he said.
By comparison, the new sensor — which is smaller than a smartphone — allows patients to take measurements at home, and the test result can be viewed on the mobile in 10 seconds, Chao said.
Chao last month received the Sensors Council Technical Achievement Award in the field of Sensor Systems or Networks for the new sensor.
The award is presented by the US-based Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
While PPG is not a new technique, the team employed a special wavelength to measure blood volume changes without hurting patients, and it also developed a special circuit and an AI model to process the signals, said Shawn Hsu (徐碩鴻), director-general at the ministry’s Department of Engineering and Technologies.
The collaboration between the medical and electronics fields would benefit people receiving dialysis — a less-charted area for technological innovation, Hsu added.
The team would start mass producing the sensor and hopes to keep its cost under a few thousand New Taiwan dollars, Chao said.
The system has collected nearly 200 pieces of data from medical centers, with a precision of 91 percent, he said, adding that it needs to collect more data to obtain the Food and Drug Administration’s approval.
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