University of Missouri heart monitor

A researcher examines the health monitor part of the wearable device under a microscope in Yan’s lab. [Image courtesy of Pate McCuien/University of Missouri]

Researchers at the University of Missouri received a $2.6 million grant from the NIH to develop a multifunctional, wearable heart monitor.

Funding helps the researchers create a breathable material with antibacterial and antiviral properties. This supports their ongoing development of the heart monitor.

According to a post on the university’s website, they designed the device to continuously track human heart health. It does so by monitoring dual signals simultaneously. Its electrocardiogram (ECG) function measures the heart’s electrical signal while a seismocardiogram (SCG) measures vibrations. After the recording on an electronic device, users can share their information with their healthcare provider to identify potential warning signs related to heart disease.

Zheng Yan, an assistant professor in the department of biomedical, biological and chemical engineering and the department of mechanical aerospace engineering, leads the team. Yan said they designed their heart monitor for use in personalized healthcare.

“We want to provide comprehensive information about the status of a person’s heart,” Yan said. “Effects of heart disease can often happen unexpectedly, so it’s important to have continuous, long-term monitoring for early detection and timely interventions. We want this to help reduce the number of people succumbing to death from heart disease in the U.S.”

Adding breathable material to the mix

The researchers designed the material to encompass the device. It may stay attached to a person’s skin for a couple of weeks and up to one month. Yan said the material’s antibacterial and antiviral properties help prevent the accumulation of harmful bacteria and viruses from forming on the surface of the skin under the device.

Additionally, the researchers aim to use breathability to mitigate the loss of signal accuracy when a person sweats. Yan also pointed to the material’s “ultra-soft” properties as a benefit.

“Under the microscope, our skin is not flat,” Yan said. “So, an ultra-soft material can form what we call a conformal contact, which is very important for us in order to have a high level of accuracy for our signal recording of the electrical activity of the human heart.”

The researchers say that similar devices today typically only monitor the heart through an ECG. They also have limited long-term use. The Missouri team designed its device as a small, wired patch connected to a small data processor connectable to a person’s shirt. They hope to one day develop a wireless version.