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Hopkins students design life-saving shocks infused shirt
07
Jun '14
Johns Hopkins biomedical engineering students have designed a lightweight, easy-to-conceal shirt-like garment to deliver life-saving shocks to patients experiencing serious heart problems. The students say their design improves upon a wearable defibrillator system that is already in use.
 
Their design changes, the students say, should help persuade patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest to wear the system around the clock.
 
“In two studies, up to 20 percent of patients who received the defibrillator garment that’s already available did not keep it on all the time because of comfort and appearance issues, problems sleeping in it, and frequent ‘maintenance alarms,’ which occur when the device does not get a good signal from sensors on the patient’s skin,” said Sandya Subramanian, a Johns Hopkins junior who led the undergraduate team that built the new prototype. “For our class project, we set out to address these issues and design a device that heart patients would be more likely to wear for longer periods of time—because their lives may depend on it.”
 
Wearable defibrillators, resting against the skin, are designed to detect arrhythmia, an irregular heart rhythm that can cause death in minutes if it is not stopped by controlled jolts of electricity. People who face this higher risk of sudden cardiac arrest include patients who have undergone open-heart surgery and those who have recently survived a heart attack.
 
The long-term treatment for such patients is to surgically implant a small defibrillator in the chest, similar to a pacemaker. However, the students said, such operations cost roughly $150,000, and it generally takes three months of testing and insurance review to get approval for the costly procedure. During this waiting period, insurance providers usually pay for the rental of an external defibrillator garment to protect the patient. More than 100,000 of these devices have been prescribed in the United States during the last eight years or so that the device has been available.
 
The Johns Hopkins student team was assigned last year to develop a system that would lead to greater compliance among these patients. Their prototype emerged from the undergraduate design team program offered by the Department of Biomedical Engineering, which is shared by the university’s School of Medicine and its Whiting School of Engineering.
 
The defibrillator project was sponsored and mentored by Todd J. Cohen, who earned his undergraduate and medical degrees at Johns Hopkins and who now is director of electrophysiology at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.

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