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THE WIRELESS PATCH, AN IDEA THAT IMPROVES THE QUALITY OF LIFE
«Young ideas that change Italy»: this is the title of the contest sponsored by the Italian government and which was won by the project drawn up by three engineers and a physicist (all in their thirties), from the University of Pisa , who developed the project for a wireless device in order to remotely monitor a range of biomedical parameters (for example: pressure, heartbeat, temperature, rate of glucose), saving time and costs for hospitals and assistance establishments. It all started from Antonio Mazzeo, Alessio Misuri, Francesco Randazzo and Pietro Valdastri coming up with an idea. They met at University where they attended electronic engineering courses with a biomedical specialisation and a few of them participated in the Master in Innovation Management at the St. Anna Graduate School, and over time they thought of putting together the different competencies acquired individually.
Indeed a courageous idea for a team whose average age is about 30. «It all started - recalls Antonio Mazzeo - with my thesis, which addressed the theme of remotely monitoring the health conditions of prisoners. Then, the competencies of Peter Valdastri, who deals with wireless telemetry, and those of the other team members were added to this basis». And so the idea behind a thesis together with post-graduate research turned into a business idea. But in practice, what are the characteristics of what has been renamed the wireless patch? «Our ambition - continues Mazzeo - is to industrialise a system that measures a patient’s physiological parameters by means of a wireless system. In collaboration with medical experts, we are determining which parameters these should be».
But the real novelty of the Italian project is the ambition to ‘free’ patients from wires going in and out of their body and continually monitor them with a very small device, which is able to send information, by means of a wireless communication system, to a remote monitoring centre where a medical specialist will be able to monitor data of a number of patients, even at the same time. The design and development of the device should be completed in 2009, after having concluded the production phase of the prototype. The wireless control device will not necessarily resemble a patch which is to be applied to the skin. «It could also have the shape of a bracelet», explains Mazzeo.
Therefore, the strength of the project of Mazzeo, Valdastri, Misuri and Randazzo lies in the ability of having understood that it is possible to integrate a range of monitoring systems, that already exist, into a device which is new in design and purpose. Each one has contributed to the realisation of the project, according to his inclinations. Mazzeo and Misuri, for example, deal with the managerial aspect and technology transfer, developed in previous business experience. Valdastri provides competencies which he developed as a researcher at the St. Anna Graduate School in Pisa and coordinates the development team, whereas Randazzo’s competency lies in software.
«Even though we have not invented a new sensor, the work we have carried out in integrating the existing sensors, has the characteristics of absolute innovation: consequently, we are waiting for our innovation to be patented in order for it to be protected. We hope to obtain the international patent by the end of the year», continues Mazzeo. Whilst waiting for «approval» of the wireless patch, the team is dealing with another determining phase: finding funds. «We are trying to attract private funding, whilst waiting to sign the agreement with the Italian Ministry of Research».
Monitoring the elderly is one of the main tasks of the innovative device developed by the Italian team. With regards to this, they are working together with local medical companies to identify possibilities of distributing a sensor that limits patients from resorting to hospital admissions, allowing them to be monitored at home. All hospitals will then be privileged partners for the application and verification of this device, especially due to the gradual transition to computerised medical records. «But the projects in the pipeline – concludes Mazzeo – do not end with the health sector: we are about to close the negotiation phase of a project aimed at testing our device in the sports sector to monitor, for example, the heart rate. Contacts have already been established with sports institutions as well as individual companies».