Next-Generation Bioengineers Develop New Defibrillator Shirt

07 July 2014

Undergraduate bioengineering students at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland have developed a lightweight defibrillator ‘shirt.' The shirt could potentially allow patients at high risk of cardiac arrest or serious arrhythmias to wear a user-friendly, unobtrusive life-saving device.

Currently, there is only one wearable cardioverter-defibrillator (WCD) device available on the market, the Zoll LifeVest. The device operates via the use of a shoulder harness, which incorporates dry, nonadhesive electrodes to continuously monitor cardiac activity in order to detect serious arrhythmias and sudden cardiac events. A monitor is attached to the garment that acts as an external cardiac defibrillator. The device is capable of discharging automatically and delivering a life-saving electric shock to the heart when needed.

The students at Johns Hopkins researched the use of the device and observed that clinical adherence in terms of wearing the potential life-saving vest was poor due to discomfort, visibility, lack of sleep, and safety alarms that beep every time there is poor contact on the skin with the electrodes. They also found issues related to unnecessary shocks caused by false alarms.

The students worked closely with clinicians to develop a new device that addressed these issues. Designed from a new lightweight, stretchable, breathable material, the wearable shirt is easy to hide under normal clothing and is also waterproof. The device is capable of delivering a 200-joule shock, with the electronic gadgetry hidden within the material. The controller has been redeveloped to incorporate wireless technology and is worn on the wrist as a watch. Incorporated in the wrist controller is a ‘Shock Alert,’ which warns the user with a 30-second alert of a pending voltage discharge – this gives the user the opportunity to stop a pending shock caused by a false alarm.

This example illustrates the innovative, fresh approach that can be achieved by students who see things from a different, commercially unadulterated angle.

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