Innovation in inexpensive medical imaging techniques

Neuchâtel, 8 July 2011 - Every doctor, every nurse and every patient dreams of having a simple, inexpensive and reliable solution for non-invasive monitoring of the interior of the human body. Thanks to the results presented by Pascal Olivier Gaggero in his thesis recently completed at CSEM and the University of Neuchâtel, this dream is about to become a reality. The solution has been found thanks to a systematic study of the theoretical and practical aspects of the Electrical Impedance Tomography (EIT) technique.

EIT calculates an image of the spatial distribution of electrical conductivity inside the body based on electrical stimulations and voltage measurements performed on its surface. The EIT technique is very attractive because it enables the acquisition of tomographic images without having to resort to ionizing radiation, such as X-rays, which is a known health hazard.

Currently, the main potential application for EIT in the medical domain consists of monitoring the respiratory and cardiac functions of patients - the aim being to optimize the therapy for artificial ventilation. Although this technique has been known for quite some time, it has never been used in clinical practice on a large scale, mainly due to a lack of proper instrumentation adapted to the hospital environment.

The thesis to be presented aims at developing an EIT device in order to - commercialize it on a large scale, explore the physical limits of the EIT technique, and to study the potential optimization of hardware and software. The use of active electrodes enables a greater integration of the device and an improved quality of the acquired signals, thus promoting the development and use of EIT. Therefore, this thesis is an important step towards the clinical use of EIT. In fact, in the case of artificially ventilated patients, it has been demonstrated that many tens of thousands of lives could thus be saved every year by helping doctors to optimize their ventilation therapy.

The work on this doctoral thesis, developed under the guidance of professors at the University of Neuchâtel and performed within CSEM, is an excellent example of successful collaboration and knowledge transfer between academia and industry. This process is a major factor in developing new economic activities and thus increasing industry's capacity for innovation.

Tomographic image of the lungs taken with the EIT chest belt developed at CSEM.

Tomographic image of the lungs taken with the EIT chest belt developed at CSEM.

Close-up of the EIT chest belt

Close-up of the EIT chest belt

Close-up of one of the EIT electrodes which make up the chest belt.

Close-up of one of the EIT electrodes which make up the chest belt.