TU Delft recently launched the CardioLab, a collaboration with the Netherlands Heart Foundation and Philips Design. In the lab, smart technology is used to analyse data to detect cardiovascular disease at an early stage, in order to provide patients with more effective treatment in the future. On Tuesday 17 October, Leonard Moonen graduated from TU Delft on the first concrete result from the CardioLab: a sensor bracelet that can detect atrial fibrillation.  

Cardiovascular disease is the world’s most important cause of death. There is still much to gain in terms of treating and preventing cardiovascular disease. Long-term monitoring of heart patients, for example, can help to limit the detrimental effects of the disease. This is why the Netherlands Heart Foundation, Philips Design and TU Delft decided to join forces and work together in the CardioLab. ‘We are putting our heads together to work on smart, data-driven innovations that will improve the quality of life for heart patients, and give medical specialists and other care workers a better insight into a patient’s condition,’ says researcher Maaike Kleinsmann from the TU Delft Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering and director of the CardioLab. According to Kleinsmann, data-driven solutions make it possible to analyse data relating to people in the high-risk group (high blood pressure, obesity, smokers). ‘Cardiovascular diseases can be detected, and possibly treated, sooner.’

Sensor bracelet
The CardioLab has already delivered its first concrete results. Graduate Leonard Moonen designed a bracelet (for the upper arm) that can detect atrial fibrillation using a special sensor, with very little inconvenience to the patient: Afi. ‘It is particularly beneficial because fibrillations are still rare during the early stages of this disorder. At present, potential patients are only monitored for 24 to 48 hours. The chance of detecting the illness in this relatively short period is really quite small’, says Kleinsmann. ‘So although it may not look like anything is wrong, a patient could actually already be quite ill. In an effort to tackle this problem, Leonard developed an application that can detect atrial fibrillations via a sensor on the upper arm. This device can give long-term readings, which increases the chance of finding an abnormality.’

The Afi sensor bracelet

The three parties in the CardioLab are keen to use more devices like this to generate data.

Big data and designs
The idea of setting up a research programme with Philips Design and the Netherlands Heart Foundation only arose two years ago. Afi is a concrete example of the smart product-service combinations that can be expected from the CardioLab in the years to come. According to Kleinsmann, these new product-service combinations mean that industrial designers must learn new design methods. ‘The data generated by the systems constitute input for services that meet the specific needs of individual users, such as relaxation exercises and nutritional advice, for example. So designers must learn to design flexible systems. But they must also be able to use ‘big data’; after all, the joint input from all the users generates data that can help doctors and nursing staff to better understand the progress of certain conditions.’
Kleinsmann expects that the advent of the CardioLab, helped by new design methods, will create an increasingly better picture of the various factors that play a role in a heart attack. ‘It is crucial to pick up the early signs. Monitoring large groups of people like this will enable researchers to reveal the early, but superficially invisible, indicators for cardiovascular disease.’ 

Tailor made
They do not only use data about blood pressure and heart rhythm in the laboratory. ‘We look at other data too. We have smart sensors that observe individual behaviour, for example, which allow us to give targeted advice when someone is in danger of a heart attack.’ Which activities cause a dangerous rise in blood pressure? Are they related to stress or exercise, and how are these factors connected? ‘By observing people at the individual level, the technology is showing us how the body responds to certain situations and whether they constitute a risk for cardiovascular disease’, concludes Kleinsmann.

For the sake of clarity: the CardioLab is not a physical laboratory. It is an agreement between the Netherlands Heart Foundation, Philips Design and TU Delft to work together on research projects through new methods.

More information
Read ‘<link en ide research discover-design supporting-heart-patients-with-sensors-and-data>Supporting heart patients with sensors and data’, an account of research from the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, TU Delft.

Afi, the sensor armband that detects atrial fibrillation, will also be on show at the Mind the Step exhibition during the Dutch Design Week from 21 - 29 October in Eindhoven.

Maaike Kleinsmann (researcher at TU Delft and director of the CardioLab), M.S.Kleinsmann@tudelft.nl, +31 (0)6 4723 8673.
Leonard Moonen (TU Delft graduate and designer of Afi), leonardmoonen@gmail.com, +31 (0)6 8147 0163.
Claire Hallewas (media relations officer TU Delft), c.r.hallewas@tudelft.nl, +31 (0)6 4095 3085.