20 November 2020: Dr. Nigel Whittle, Head of Medical & Healthcare & Stephen Guy, Principal Consultant for Design Momentum Ltd feature in Pharmafield news article on distribution and scaling up a Covid-19 vaccine.

“The development and distribution of a safe and effective vaccine is widely seen as the best resolution to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the most likely route back to normal life and economic conditions. There are estimated to be 300 vaccine candidates in development and dozens of clinical trials currently taking place, with some early front runners talking about vaccines becoming available in the next few months.

The UK government has already ordered 340 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from several different manufacturers, with the hope that at least one will prove effective. If all of them prove successful, this would be enough to provide a single dose of vaccine to more than five times the UK population – however, this scenario is unlikely.”

Read the full article here: Distribution and scaling up a Covid-19 vaccine

About Plextek

Plextek is an innovative electronic engineering consultancy with huge expertise in sensing, data collection and communications services. The company has extensive experience of developing highly complex and innovative products for a range of sectors, including medical & healthcare. In a world of rapid change, the company prides itself on its ability to solve the hardest engineering problems to deliver effective solutions to meet our clients’ needs. www.plextek.com

Radars in medical imaging, brain scans

Can Radar be used for Medical Imaging & Monitoring?

By: Nigel Whittle

Head of Medical & Healthcare

10th November 2020

5 minute read

Home » Healthcare

Medical imaging is one of the most important technologies available to doctors and other medical workers, providing critical information for diagnosis and treatment. There is however no single technology for imaging of internal structures that is universally applicable to all tissues, has high resolution, is inexpensive, doesn’t use ionizing radiation, and creates images in real-time. An ideal system would also be portable and low-cost, with the potential for use in ambulances and other out-of-hospital environments.

In recent years a substantial body of experimental work has been performed to apply microwave and radar technologies to the field of medical imaging and biosensing.

Microwave Imaging

The microwave frequency band (300 MHz–30 GHz) possesses useful characteristics, including the use of non-ionizing radiation which is harmless at moderate power levels but penetrates biological tissue reasonably well. Compared with more conventional medical imaging systems such as MRI and X-ray, microwave systems generally offer a lower spatial resolution but a high temporal resolution (ie the ability to resolve fast-paced events).

Microwave medical imaging has been used for breast cancer screening. In this form it relies on differences in dielectric properties between the constituent tissues of the healthy and cancerous tissues in shallow parts of the body. It has also been investigated for stroke detection, bladder volume control, lung oedema, bone analysis and other possibilities.

However the problem with the approach is that human beings are essentially soft tubes of salty water and therefore quite conductive. This significantly reduces the penetration depth possible with radar, such that deeper screening within the body is not really viable.

With lower frequencies (4 – 8 GHz) it is possible to achieve some penetration, but this necessarily reduces the spatial resolution of the output image.

My colleague Damien Clarke, Lead Consultant at Plextek, provided me with the following insights: “This approach for breast cancer screening has been researched for at least a decade now. I know Bristol University has performed significant work in this area, though I don’t know if a clinical product is actually viable yet. Radar Tomography (RT), a new concept in medical imaging, has the potential to encompass all of the above criteria, and so curb radiation exposure, inconvenience, discomfort, and cost.”

Ultra Wide Band

Ultra-wideband (UWB) is a short-range wireless communication protocol, like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, that uses short pulses of radio waves over a spectrum of frequencies ranging from 3.1 to 10.5 GHz. The allowable power limit has been set very low to avoid interference with other technologies that operate in this frequency band, while the wide bandwidth enables very fine time-space resolution.

Due to its features, UWB has the potential for medical monitoring, such as patient motion, wireless vital signs, and medicine storage monitoring. This monitoring function could be applied in intensive care units, post-operative environments, home health care, and paediatric clinics. The deployment of UWB vital signs monitoring system could also enable proactive home monitoring of elderly patients, which could decrease the cost of healthcare by allowing eligible patients to return home from hospital.

Perhaps more significantly, UWB has the potential to detect, noninvasively, tiny movements inside the human body. It could therefore use movement detection of the aorta or other parts of the arterial system to monitor cardiovascular physiology, or other parameters such as heart rate (HR), respiration motion, and blood pressure (BP). Imaging of surface and more deeply located structures such as breast tissue for cancer diagnosis is another promising application of UWB technology that has the potential of taking over the role of X-ray mammography.

Bodily motion

A possible medical application of radar however is to measure chest motion without contact. By looking for particular frequency oscillations it is then possible to estimate heart rate (0.8 – 2 Hz) and respiration rate (0.1 – 0.5 Hz) simultaneously. It is also possible to detect shivering (< 14 Hz) and micro-shivering (7 – 11 Hz) though I don’t really know whether that is a useful diagnostic capability.

Conclusion

As the medical world turns its attention to long-term, mobile, and even home-based imaging and monitoring for preventive screening and early detection of diseases, radar-based biosensing and imaging applications are likely to play an increasingly important role.

Their advantages include potentially low cost and small size of the required hardware, plus a wide application across fields as diverse as heart rate tracking, sleep monitoring and fall detection for the elderly, right across to screening of the cardiovascular system, breast cancer imaging and stroke detection.

References:
Compound Radar Approach for Breast Imaging

Micro-Shivering Detection

Medical imaging is one of the most important technologies available to doctors and other medical workers, providing critical information for diagnosis and treatment. There is however no single technology for imaging of internal structures that is universally applicable to all tissues, has high resolution, is inexpensive, doesn’t use ionizing radiation, and creates images in real-time. An ideal system would also be portable and low-cost, with the potential for use in ambulances and other out-of-hospital environments.

In recent years a substantial body of experimental work has been performed to apply microwave and radar technologies to the field of medical imaging and biosensing.

Microwave Imaging

The microwave frequency band (300 MHz–30 GHz) possesses useful characteristics, including the use of non-ionizing radiation which is harmless at moderate power levels but penetrates biological tissue reasonably well. Compared with more conventional medical imaging systems such as MRI and X-ray, microwave systems generally offer a lower spatial resolution but a high temporal resolution (ie the ability to resolve fast-paced events).

Microwave medical imaging has been used for breast cancer screening. In this form it relies on differences in dielectric properties between the constituent tissues of the healthy and cancerous tissues in shallow parts of the body. It has also been investigated for stroke detection, bladder volume control, lung oedema, bone analysis and other possibilities.

However the problem with the approach is that human beings are essentially soft tubes of salty water and therefore quite conductive. This significantly reduces the penetration depth possible with radar, such that deeper screening within the body is not really viable.

With lower frequencies (4 – 8 GHz) it is possible to achieve some penetration, but this necessarily reduces the spatial resolution of the output image.

My colleague Damien Clarke, Lead Consultant at Plextek, provided me with the following insights: “This approach for breast cancer screening has been researched for at least a decade now. I know Bristol University has performed significant work in this area, though I don’t know if a clinical product is actually viable yet. Radar Tomography (RT), a new concept in medical imaging, has the potential to encompass all of the above criteria, and so curb radiation exposure, inconvenience, discomfort, and cost.”

Ultra Wide Band

Ultra-wideband (UWB) is a short-range wireless communication protocol, like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, that uses short pulses of radio waves over a spectrum of frequencies ranging from 3.1 to 10.5 GHz. The allowable power limit has been set very low to avoid interference with other technologies that operate in this frequency band, while the wide bandwidth enables very fine time-space resolution.

Due to its features, UWB has the potential for medical monitoring, such as patient motion, wireless vital signs, and medicine storage monitoring. This monitoring function could be applied in intensive care units, post-operative environments, home health care, and paediatric clinics. The deployment of UWB vital signs monitoring system could also enable proactive home monitoring of elderly patients, which could decrease the cost of healthcare by allowing eligible patients to return home from hospital.

Perhaps more significantly, UWB has the potential to detect, noninvasively, tiny movements inside the human body. It could therefore use movement detection of the aorta or other parts of the arterial system to monitor cardiovascular physiology, or other parameters such as heart rate (HR), respiration motion, and blood pressure (BP). Imaging of surface and more deeply located structures such as breast tissue for cancer diagnosis is another promising application of UWB technology that has the potential of taking over the role of X-ray mammography.

Bodily motion

A possible medical application of radar however is to measure chest motion without contact. By looking for particular frequency oscillations it is then possible to estimate heart rate (0.8 – 2 Hz) and respiration rate (0.1 – 0.5 Hz) simultaneously. It is also possible to detect shivering (< 14 Hz) and micro-shivering (7 – 11 Hz) though I don’t really know whether that is a useful diagnostic capability.

Conclusion

As the medical world turns its attention to long-term, mobile, and even home-based imaging and monitoring for preventive screening and early detection of diseases, radar-based biosensing and imaging applications are likely to play an increasingly important role.

Their advantages include potentially low cost and small size of the required hardware, plus a wide application across fields as diverse as heart rate tracking, sleep monitoring and fall detection for the elderly, right across to screening of the cardiovascular system, breast cancer imaging and stroke detection.

References:
Compound Radar Approach for Breast Imaging

Micro-Shivering Detection

Process Optimisation, business growth, product development, business improvement practices, engineering solutions, creativity?

Can Trump rapidly deploy his ‘miracle cure’?

By: Nigel Whittle

Head of Medical & Healthcare

9th October 2020

3 minute read

Home » Healthcare

Last Friday Donald Trump was treated with an antibody cocktail made by the biotech company Regeneron. His recovery has prompted him to call for the drug to be made available to all US citizens through an Emergency Use Authorization. However, the safety and effectiveness of the drug have not yet been proven, and there is no way for the President or his doctors to know that the drug had any effect as most people recover from COVID-19.

As the Metro states today: “Trump is just one of 10 people receiving the drug, which is still in the experimental phase and is intended to boost antibodies to fight the infection”. Is it logistically possible to fulfil Trump’s statement and take a drug from small scale testing to Nationwide rollout? In this blog, we unravel a bit of the situation.

What are the options?

There are over 70 different antibody treatments for COVID-19 currently under investigation. In contrast to convalescent serum, monoclonal antibodies (in this case a pair of antibodies developed by Regeneron) are targeted precisely at the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. This approach makes good scientific sense and there are real hopes that it will be effective. Already several groups have published data showing that this biologic treatment can reduce the virus load in the body as well as the time it takes for patients to recover. However, the evidence in patients is very limited and these treatments are still classed as experimental drugs while clinical trials are ongoing.

Biologic Drugs

The development of these types of novel biologics starts with the creation of cells that produce therapeutic antibodies. Through the process of cell expansion, sufficient quantities of cells are then manufactured to supply enough antibodies for testing and support of Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials.

How to scale up?

There are significant challenges with rolling out new biologic drugs, aside from the obvious health risks. Rapidly manufacturing medicine requires physical infrastructure in laboratories, supportive mechanics, bioreactor vessels, filling, packaging and a distribution method.

Stephen Guy, Principal Consultant for Life Sciences states, “Both flask-based and bioreactor technologies are commonly employed for cell expansion, and often the choice depends on the type of cells used. Either way, the physical task of ramping up the production process needs many multiples of any technology and a laboratory supplier list that can fulfill requirements.”

In partnership with Design Momentum, we have been exploring the technology behind new collaborative robots that can automate and semi-automate many of the manual processes presently involved in cell expansion. In addition to speeding up laboratory processes, the robots will remove the difficulties of manually handling heavy consumables during seeding and harvesting. Antibody medicines are exciting in their potential to create novel therapeutics and we are keen to support this endeavour with our innovative technology.

What’s next?

As others have noted, there is a strong argument that it is both bad medicine and bad ethics to give unproven drugs to influential people, when they have not been through appropriate randomised clinical trials. Already people are contacting Regeneron asking to be included in the clinical trials of the drug, and it will be very hard for the FDA to resist calls to fast-track the drug into widespread use. It is worth noting that the Trump administration and Regeneron recently agreed to a $450 million deal to manufacture the drug for public use if Regeneron can get either emergency or full FDA approval.

It is easy to express a desire for something to be done, but the hard work is in the implementation. Investment in new laboratory techniques is required to enable efficient deployment to the general public at scale and within timeframes set by our politicians.

Last Friday Donald Trump was treated with an antibody cocktail made by the biotech company Regeneron. His recovery has prompted him to call for the drug to be made available to all US citizens through an Emergency Use Authorization. However, the safety and effectiveness of the drug have not yet been proven, and there is no way for the President or his doctors to know that the drug had any effect as most people recover from COVID-19.

As the Metro states today: “Trump is just one of 10 people receiving the drug, which is still in the experimental phase and is intended to boost antibodies to fight the infection”. Is it logistically possible to fulfil Trump’s statement and take a drug from small scale testing to Nationwide rollout? In this blog, we unravel a bit of the situation.

What are the options?

There are over 70 different antibody treatments for COVID-19 currently under investigation. In contrast to convalescent serum, monoclonal antibodies (in this case a pair of antibodies developed by Regeneron) are targeted precisely at the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. This approach makes good scientific sense and there are real hopes that it will be effective. Already several groups have published data showing that this biologic treatment can reduce the virus load in the body as well as the time it takes for patients to recover. However, the evidence in patients is very limited and these treatments are still classed as experimental drugs while clinical trials are ongoing.

Biologic Drugs

The development of these types of novel biologics starts with the creation of cells that produce therapeutic antibodies. Through the process of cell expansion, sufficient quantities of cells are then manufactured to supply enough antibodies for testing and support of Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials.

How to scale up?

There are significant challenges with rolling out new biologic drugs, aside from the obvious health risks. Rapidly manufacturing medicine requires physical infrastructure in laboratories, supportive mechanics, bioreactor vessels, filling, packaging and a distribution method.

Stephen Guy, Principal Consultant for Life Sciences states, “Both flask-based and bioreactor technologies are commonly employed for cell expansion, and often the choice depends on the type of cells used. Either way, the physical task of ramping up the production process needs many multiples of any technology and a laboratory supplier list that can fulfill requirements.”

In partnership with Design Momentum, we have been exploring the technology behind new collaborative robots that can automate and semi-automate many of the manual processes presently involved in cell expansion. In addition to speeding up laboratory processes, the robots will remove the difficulties of manually handling heavy consumables during seeding and harvesting. Antibody medicines are exciting in their potential to create novel therapeutics and we are keen to support this endeavour with our innovative technology.

What’s next?

As others have noted, there is a strong argument that it is both bad medicine and bad ethics to give unproven drugs to influential people, when they have not been through appropriate randomised clinical trials. Already people are contacting Regeneron asking to be included in the clinical trials of the drug, and it will be very hard for the FDA to resist calls to fast-track the drug into widespread use. It is worth noting that the Trump administration and Regeneron recently agreed to a $450 million deal to manufacture the drug for public use if Regeneron can get either emergency or full FDA approval.

It is easy to express a desire for something to be done, but the hard work is in the implementation. Investment in new laboratory techniques is required to enable efficient deployment to the general public at scale and within timeframes set by our politicians.

24th September 2020: Shahzad Nadeem, Head of Smart Cities, features in Raconteur news article on what’s holding the 5G rollout back.

“Shahzad Nadeem, head of smart cities at design and engineering consultancy Plextek, agrees and says: On top of security, there are concerns around the ownership of data, along with compatibility and interoperability with existing systems.”

To read the full article Click Here.

23rd September 2020: Nigel Whittle, Head of Medical & Health, features in Silicon UK Tech news article on how wearable technology is the key to long-term fitness.

“Dr Nigel Whittle, head of medical and Healthcare at design and engineering consultancy, Plextek explained to Silicon UK: “It is only when this data is combined and cross-referenced that we are able to build a complete profile of our overall health. This integrated approach to health monitoring and measurement can also provide more accurate alerts to anomalous physiological changes. These then have the potential to identify deteriorating health or the onset of a serious medical problem.”

To read the full article Click Here.