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MAKING DEADLY SOUNDS AUDIBLE

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HEALTH TECHNOLOGY: When blood passes through a narrowed coronary artery it creates an audible turbulence. A Danish student has developed a computer programme, which can spot the sound and reveal the potentially life threatening condition much earlier than has so far been possible

Danish PhD student Samuel Schmidt has developed an ingenious computer programme, which can ’translate’ sounds from a digital stethoscope, and reveal arteriosclerosis in the coronary artery. In the long term the invention will enable GPs to identify at an earlier stage patients who are at risk of coronary thrombosis.

About 22% of all deaths in Europe are associated with arteriosclerosis of the coronary artery, which often leads to myocardial infarct – better known as a heart attack. The majority of these deaths could be avoided if arteriosclerosis of the coronary artery were identified at an early stage and preventive treatment given.

Visualising the sound
“It is the arteriosclerosis, which typically gives rise to blood clots,” says Samuel Schmidt, a postgraduate student at the Institute for Health Technology, Aalborg University. “The coronary arteries supply blood to the heart to enable it to function. When the arteries clog up, it increases the risk of blood clots and heart failure.” Samuel Schmidt’s invention uses the digital stethoscope’s ability to hear blood flowing through the coronary arteries. “When blood passes through a narrowing it creates an exit turbulence which is audible,” says Schmidt. My invention uses various sound recognition models to mathematically analyse and visualise these sounds.”

Inexpensive tool
Until now doctors have had to use expensive and time-consuming coronary angiography to reveal the presence of arteriosclerosis. But it is often first when the disease has progressed that angiography is performed. Samuel Schmidt’s invention makes it possible to develop a relatively cheap tool for GPs, which together with their diagnostic knowledge can make the alarm bells audible much earlier.

Samuel Schmidt and his co-student Claus Graff are currently patenting the software on which the analysis method is based.

“If everything goes as we expect the market could be worth billions,” says Samuel Schmidt. “The response we have received from GPs has been very positive. The new tool gives them the opportunity to refer patients for treatment before damage is done.”

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