A POTENTIAL breakthrough in the prevention of cot deaths has been made by scientists based at University College Cork.
The development was made by researchers at the prestigious Tyndall National Institute, which Queen Elizabeth will visit during her trip to Cork between May 17 and 20.
Using a new type of radar, a microchip sensor operates wirelessly and can detect breathing rates without touching the person under observation.
The chip allows for constant monitoring of babies in cots and could serve as an early warning system for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It is highly sensitive and can detect very small movements, including the beating of a heart.
It can also be used to monitor hospital patients and other people at risk of breathing difficulties, known as obstructive apneas, and for the early detection of sudden sleep experienced by motorists.
The sensor technology enables several other important applications such as facilitating patients being monitored in their home and sending data in real time to GPs and medical staff in hospitals.
It can also be used for fitness monitoring and personalised healthcare for independent and healthy living.
The sensor microchip consists of ultra-wide-band pulse radar, capable of detecting sub-centimetre movements.
The radar sends very short pulses towards the chest and detects the echo reflected in proximity of the skin.
The output signal provided by the sensor is sensitive to the chest movement.
This is the first time that such an ultra-wide-band pulse radar has been integrated into a single silicon chip.
Speaking about the development, research team leader Dr Domenico Zito said: “This microchip is the result of a dedicated and highly-skilled research team at Tyndall National Institute who have been developing this microchip for some considerable time.
“We believe that this microchip has the potential to make a profound impact on monitoring respiratory diseases, as well as reduce the number of deaths resulting from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or accidents arising from driver fatigue.”
Dr Zito, a lecturer in microelectronic engineering at UCC, said: “The microchip gives doctors access to extensive data recorded over long observation intervals, which will allow them to understand more about pathologies and their manifestations.”
The research carried out by Tyndall National Institute in developing this micro-chip was funded by Science Foundation Ireland, the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technologies and the European Commission.
Dr Zito is an Italian who moved to Ireland two years ago under the Stokes Professorship Programme.
His work mirrors that of another famous Italian, Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless telecommunications who first envisaged the concept of radar in 1922.
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