In science, it is not sufficient if small is merely beautiful; small must also be functional.

That functionality must be efficient too. In an endeavour to find solutions that would encompass all three aspects, and serve an unmet need in the population, IIT-Madras’ Healthcare Technology Innovation Centre (HTIC) has come up with ARTSENS.

This new device was unveiled on Tuesday. Currently tablet sized, it is a working model of a prototype that can check the elasticity of blood vessels. The stiffness of vessels is a key factor in determining the health of an individual; and can be a tool for preventing major health incidents.

ARTSENS, which has patents pending, is a clear innovation in diagnosis of blood vessel function. So far, image-based ultra sonograms are being used to test the vessel’s function, its elasticity and structure. These are done with conventional ultrasound machines that are large, require very skilled man power and are time consuming.

On all these fronts, the new device scores over existing techniques, and initial results have been validated by several clinical trials.

Jayaraj Joseph, systems architect, HTIC, initiated the concept of imageless monitoring of vessel elasticity with his PhD project and stayed on to take the concept this far. He explains: “All that a technician will have to do is place a probe over the carotid artery. Then the intelligent algorithm kicks in, it measures vessel age, or stiffness, and in a matter of minutes, provides the results.”

Vascular age, or the age of the blood vessels in a person, often does not coincide with the chronological age. “Each vessel is lined with endothelial cells that give the vessel the ability to contract and distend in order to allow the blood to pass through,” explains S. Thanikachalam, who leads the Purse-HIS epidemiological study at Sri Ramachandra University. With age, the capacity of the endothelial cells reduces, and elasticity comes down, stiffness sets in. Sometimes, with contributing factors such as diabetes, hypertension, stress and high cholesterol, the blood vessels age faster than the individual.

Bringing down costs

The function of ARTSENS was evaluated at three clinical settings, Sri Ramachandra University, MediScan Systems, and Thambiran Heart and Vascular Institute, all in the city. The largest of the studies is an ongoing one at SRU, working with about 500 patients. It indicated that the device could detect increase arterial stiffness coinciding with age, and the presence of other risk factors, Dr. Joseph explains.

Increasing vessel stiffness over several years leads to alteration in the structure of the vein or artery itself, R. Ravikumar, head, Thambiran Institute, says. With early detection one can set in motion lifestyle changes to avoid a cardiac event or other emergencies ten years down the line, he adds.

In that sense, ARTSENS will be a compact, portable device to pick up early vessel alteration, and this can serve as an affordable device for public healthcare settings, experts say.

“The costs, per test, would come down 100 times, in comparison to the conventional technologies,” explains S. Suresh, chief medical director, MediScan. Costs will come down as a result of low cost of the device, reduced time taken per test and personnel cost (minimal training is sufficient to operate the system), says S. Mohanasankar, who heads the HTIC.

T.S. Rao, senior advisor, department of biotechnology that provides funding for HTIC projects, says the idea is to take the project along until it is available for use in a healthcare setting. Any comparable medical technology product could take up to five years to go from bench to bedside, following the right testing and clinical development protocols.

Bhaskar Ramamurthi, director, IIT-M, says ARTSENS would fit that need to find credible, cost-effective screening technologies that help prevent diseases, rather than treat them. This project was an indication that good old-fashioned academic research, when married with relevance, had far reaching implications for the people, he said.

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