DLSU student’s lung iSteth project can help save lives

The advancement of technology has drastically increased throughout time. Our society is looking to create and develop ways to make our lives better.

In the field of medicine and software technology, some of the brightest and most determined researchers that tirelessly apply theories to technological applications to save lives of many Filipinos are working to easily detect and immediately identify respiratory diseases.

For Macario Cordel II, an assistant professor in computer technology at the De La Salle University College of Computer Studies (DLSU-CCS) and currently taking up PhD in computer science, his experience with his sibling motivated him to work on his current project—the iSteth.

Personal experience—the idea generator

Pneumonia is one of the world’s leading diseases that kill mostly children and the elderly, according to the World Health Organization. It kills 2,500 kids a day and has killed 920,000 children worldwide in 2015.

The iSteth is a project of the DLSU-CCS and is part of the e-health telemedicine program of the university, the Get Better, being handled by Dr. Arnulfo Azcarraga, a DLSU professor of software technology. The main objective of the project is to detect respiratory problems through the sound of one’s lungs.

“I became frustrated when my sibling got sick,” Cordel said, partly in Filipino, in an interview with the BusinessMirror. “I’m from Bulacan, and in our municipality, we have a small hospital where the physician knew little about the sound symptoms of pneumonia.”

Exasperated, he and his sibling had to move to another hospital in a nearby municipality to be able to have a proper diagnosis of the health situation of his sibling. From that experience, he learned the sound of the lungs is very important in detecting pneumonia.

“A doctor, using a stethoscope, must be skilled in performing a pattern recognition of the lungs.” Auscultation, the medical term for this procedure, is the action of listening to the sounds of the heart and lungs using a stethoscope.

“I confirmed this kind of procedure with a friend who is also a doctor,” he added.

Jump-starting iSteth

Starting with zero collaborators, he was motivated and received enough confirmation from doctors of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) to let his idea become a reality.

“I had several stages of deployment and interviews among doctors from the PGH until I got a financial grant from the university,” Cordel said.

Cordel received P120,000 to jumpstart his concept.

“The purpose of iSteth is to be an alert system,” he said. Given enough data, one could add a lot of samples to be studied and analyse the difference between a normal and abnormal lung sound.

He said there are three abnormal lung sounds in detecting pneumonia: wheeze, bronchial breath and a crackle. These are individually significant to the ears of a trained doctor.

These sounds are the abnormalities iSteth must detect in order to be an efficient alert system. Cordel thought of digitizing the lung sounds. He initially planned to develop an instrument to do so, but with the electronic stethoscope already available in the market gave Cordel a relief.

“If you can transfer that recorded lung sound to a mobile phone or to a laptop, perform noise reduction, extract the lung sound attributes, and put it into a classifier,” Cordel explained, “the iSteth can tell you whether the lung sound is normal or abnormal, and if abnormal, it can tell if it is a wheeze, bronchial breath or a crackle.”

Challenges in developing iSteth

The project iSteth is promising and doable, but it has its own challenges. “The challenge in lung sound extraction is the noise cancelling and reduction, since the heart is also there [producing a sound],” Cordel said. The human body is a working machine, and every organ works simultaneously with one another.

According to Cordel, literature reviews show evidence that differentiating heart sounds from lung sounds is easy.

“The heart sound is around 50 to 60 Hertz, so you can remove that by a filter,” he said. “The main problem is the mechanical sound, like the friction of the skin when we transfer the instrument to another area of the chest.”

The frequency range of this certain mechanical sound can affect performance, and it goes on top of the sounds of the heart and lungs. This is very critical in performing data acquisition. This type of noise reduction is the next stage of the project, according to Cordel.

Envisioning the future with iSteth

“I want to continue doing research on iSteth and launch the first prototype in rural or far-flung areas,” Cordel said. His concern is to provide a tool that can improve the efficiency of health care in the country.

“If you can empower barangay health workers and let them perform data collection, you can send data. Together, of course, with the support of a viable telemedicine system, such as our Get Better, delays of doctors will be prevented, and it will eventually help doctors analyse the case of a patient in no time.”

According to Cordel, he wants to collect data and create a database of lung sounds to help and encourage researchers to investigate more how it can help save lives.

“It is a continuously improving system, and we can possibly even find out more patterns for lung cancer and the like.”

At the same time, he wanted to influence the government to support these kinds of research and development projects.

“You should have a working prototype [to show] the research can help the community,” Cordel said.

He further explained that if the government can see a prototype that shows it can help and improve the lives of the Filipinos, the government can be easily persuaded to support the project.

“In the future the research will not be only part of the requirement of the academe, but also, a part of nation-building,” Cordel said—a vision shared and exemplified by the DLSU community, most especially in the CCS.




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