• UC Mechanical Engineer Dr Chris Pretty (left) and Dr Geoff Shaw, an Intensive Care specialist and co-investigator in the study, demonstrate how the non-invasive sensor technology is used to pick up the venous oxygen saturation signal. Photo credit: The University of CanterburyUC Mechanical Engineer Dr Chris Pretty (left) and Dr Geoff Shaw, an Intensive Care specialist and co-investigator in the study, demonstrate how the non-invasive sensor technology is used to pick up the venous oxygen saturation signal. Photo credit: The University of Canterbury

Engineering better medical sensor technology at UC

Engineers from the University of Canterbury are working with doctors in the Intensive Care Unit of a Christchurch hospital to develop better medical sensors for sepsis detection.

The team have modified existing sensors and used the technology in a new way, so that they have been able to pick up an additional reading for blood oxygen saturation that could provide early indication of sepsis.

Mechanical Engineer Dr Chris Pretty, from UC’s College of Engineering, says existing non-invasive sensor technology has been repurposed to pick up the venous oxygen saturation signal, normally obtained via invasive blood sampling.

Sepsis results in poor oxygen extraction from the blood. Standard pulse oximeters, which attach to a patient’s finger, only offer arterial oxygen saturation readings. Dr Pretty and his team have developed a low-pressure cuff that fits around the top of a patient’s finger, using sophisticated methods of processing the signal, it is possible to obtain the venous oxygen saturation readings needed.

Dr Pretty said: “Knowing both the arterial and venous saturations, and how they change, will enable earlier diagnosis and lead to better patient outcomes.” 

Dr Pretty and the UC team have been doing an increasing amount of research within St. Georges Hospital to advance ICU research.  With access to the hospital facilities the team can help solve problems more quickly and assist developments in ICU treatment.  The project is progressing well and the next stage will involve trialling the device on real patients at both Christchurch and St George’s Hospitals.

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