The device was developed Dr Raj Shekhar and his team at the Children’s National Medical Centre in Washington DC in partnership with Shaikh Khalifa University. Image Credit: Dr Raj Shekhar

Dubai: An innovative digital device developed by the Shaikh Zayed Institute of Paediatric Surgical Innovations at the Children’s National Medical Centre (CNMC) in Washington DC, USA, is proving to be very effective in detecting heart murmurs in infants.

The institute at the CNMC is funded by the Abu Dhabi Government with a $150 million (Dh550.5 million) grant and supports health-care developments and innovation for children. A missed heart murmur can prove fatal for a child in some cases and early detection will facilitate early intervention.

What are heart murmurs?

The device developed by Dr Raj Shekhar and a team of doctors at CNMC had the partnership of the Shaikh Khalifa University on this project. Explaining the physiology of murmurs and the need for such a device, Dr Shekhar told Gulf News: “A heart murmur is an ‘extra’ sound riding over the ‘lub-dub’ sound of a beating heart. Fortunately, most heart murmurs in children are innocent, and Still’s murmur is the most common of all innocent murmurs. Pathological murmurs, on the other hand, are the murmurs caused by true heart defects. Missing a pathological murmur can have serious consequences including morbidity and mortality. Approximately 1 in 2 children develops Still’s murmur during their growing years. Furthermore, the incidence of Still’s murmur is almost 50 times higher than the incidence of all pathological murmurs combined.”

Early detection can save lives

Dr Shekhar explained the working of the device in simple terms. “The heart murmur device technology is both novel hardware and software. Using technology the device converts a standard stethoscope into a digital one by plugging it without the earpiece into a smartphone. Next, a signal processing algorithm (technique) developed by our team is used to distinguish whether the murmur is innocent (meaning normal) or not. The algorithm takes less than a minute to identify a murmur and is being further accelerated to execute in near real-time (a few seconds).”

Once approved by the relevant authorities, the device to be used by paediatric cardiology experts will help screen infants and streamline immediate health care for their condition. “The device could serve as a valuable teaching tool and help doctors develop auscultation [listening to the internal sounds of the body] skills. And, it will save the family anxiety, due to the wait time of referral to a cardiologist, to discover whether the murmur is innocent or not,” said Dr Shekhar.

A successful team effort

Dr Shekhar credited the successful development of the device to the team of CNMC paediatric cardiologists.

“The development of the device and the underlying technology is based on the clinical insights of our medical collaborator, Dr Robin Doroshow, a prominent paediatric cardiologist at CNMC, Dr Doroshow sees many patients with innocent heart murmurs, referred by general physicians, each week. Therefore, she suggested that we develop this system to help diagnose heart murmurs. The current development was also made possible through the engineering talent available within the Shaikh Zayed Institute for Paediatric Surgical Innovation, thanks to our partnership with the people of the UAE.”

He added that CNMC and Khalifa University have had a longstanding collaborative relationship that has helped develop novel technologies for paediatric cardiology care such as foetal heart rate monitoring and foetal echocardiography. “The heart murmur analysis device builds on this productive research partnership and benefits from a large body of prior cardiac signal processing work. We have been working with Dr Ahsan Khandoker, a Biomedical Engineering faculty at Khalifa University and a foetal cardiology and cardiac signal processing expert. Dr Khandoker is advising the team in optimising both the hardware and software aspects of the device.”