Washington, April 12 : Scientists have developed a sensor-based system which, when worn in the pockets of a vest, can continuously monitor the air around persons prone to asthma attacks.
Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), who have created the new system, say that it may help advance the understanding of the causes of asthma attacks.
"We are investigating whether we can go back after an asthma attack and see what was going on environmentally when the attack started," said Charlene Bayer, a GTRI principal research scientist.
The new sensor system measures airborne exposure to formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, temperature, relative humidity, and total volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are emitted as gases from various products.
Besides detecting these seven environmental stimuli, a special in-built mesh filter in the battery-powered system collects particles.
A pump pulls air through the filter so that the quantity of particles can be measured at the end of the sampling period. The composition of the collected particulate can also be analyzed in the laboratory.
"The device weighs less than one pound including batteries and it takes a measurement of air every two minutes, stores the data in on-board memory and then sleeps to conserve battery power," said Mark Jones, chief executive officer of Keehi Technologies.
The researchers tested the sensor system for its comfort and effectiveness in a study involving six adult volunteers, conducted actual use conditions.
They say that the system has already brought benefits for one volunteer, whose vest detected higher volatile organic exposures in his home than anywhere else.
Such observations enabled researchers to further discover a pollutant pathway from the volunteer's basement garage into the living areas, which was allowing automobile exhaust and gasoline fumes to invade the house.
The research team now plans to test the sensor vest on asthmatic children, and develop software to process the data collected through these studies.
"With this system we can determine what children are exposed to at home, at school and outside where they play. Chances are there are some overreaching compounds that seem to trigger asthma attacks in more children," said Bayer.
They hope to get more funding for developing a smaller and more sensitive sensor system.