The Holst Centre, a collaboration between public and private Dutch and Belgian institutions, originally founded by imec and TNO, focuses its research specifically on wireless sensors and flexible electronics. It develops things like shirts that record cardiac signals, brain monitoring EEG pillows, labor contraction trackers, and even electronic underwear to help control urinary incontinence. Moreover, Holst seems to be an incubator for new technology companies that focus on any type of body sensing. It has over two hundred staff, 35 students, and 40 industry residents working on different projects. On our recent trip to The Netherlands, we had an opportunity to check out many of these projects, some in the early stages, while others ready for use by patients.
One recently developed device is the HealthPatch, a tiny device that weighs about 10 grams, but that does 1-lead ECG, impedance sensing, and body movement detection while attached to the chest. Wireless Bluetooth connectivity allows it to be stuck to the patient who can then be continuously monitored via a mobile device such as a smartphone for unusual cardiac signatures, falls, and physical activity. The stick-on electrodes are connected to the main unit using flexible wires embedded in what looks like silicone. The monitoring software we were shown that displays the readings can be used to monitor entire clinics and geriatric facilities full of patients.
Besides being able to manufacture flexible electronic components, Holst researchers also specialize in ultra-low power integrated circuit design. This allows them to build devices like the HealthPatch and even disposable patches that are able to provide long term monitoring while maintaining wireless capabilities.
They’re even working on making washable patches that can be used for long periods of time without accumulating costs.
Another field Holst researchers are working on is making electroencephalography (EEG) more practical for researchers and clinicians, and even finding interesting consumer applications for the technology.
One challenge they’ve been overcoming is being able to gather accurate brain signal data without using wet gel electrodes that demand time to put on and can be unpleasant for many people. Their silver chloride dry contact electrodes are meant to provide accurate measurement of signals without causing too much discomfort as they’re pressed by the headset against the scalp.
Having tried a headset using the new electrodes, we have to say it’s not like having pins stuck into you, instead the pressure is distributed and less piercing in nature.
Even when the electrodes are making good contact with the skin over the scalp, using an EEG headset during any kind of motion creates artifacts in the signal. This prevents any high resolution EEG brain studies when the subject is walking, for example. The Holst researchers are currently working on using software that detects stray readings and either ignores them or corrects for the attenuations.
One particularly interesting device we got to check out was the SureStim deep-brain stimulation lead from Medtronic Neuromodulation, originally created by Sapiens, a spin-off of Philips. It was developed for more precise control of Parkinson’s while reducing the side effects of electrical stimulation therapy, such as speech impediments and tingling. Many of these side effects occur due to leakage of current into tissue adjacent to that which is targeted, so a more precise delivery system should lead to improved outcomes.
Unlike commonly used single digit electrode leads, the SureStim has 40 closely spaced electrodes that a physician can use to program a more precise stimulation grid for each patient. The stimulation pattern can be reprogrammed at any time, but the challenge has been to accurately program even a 4 electrodes easily. The solution that the folks from Medtronic Neuromodulation are looking into is being able to analyze the signals from the 40 electrodes to figure out where to target and how much current to deliver in order to achieve optimal therapeutic results. Active leads with on-board controllers make that possible. A tablet, for example, can be used to select the zone of the stimulation effect administered by the electrodes, helping patients and doctors naturally coordinate the delivery of the treatment.
Finally on our tour of Holst, when we saw a pair of pink ladies underwear presented by a smirking man it was hard not to get excited. Looks can be deceiving because these are for women with stress urinary incontinence, a condition that in a lot of cases can be treated if the right exercise regimen is prescribed and followed.
The Carin device that had its infancy at Holst Centre helps physiotherapists identify which pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, to prescribe and to track patient progress. It senses when leaks occur and measures the amount of leakage, allowing one to identify correlations between exercise and how things are improving.
LifeSense, the Dutch company founded to commercialize the sensor and software platform, hopes that their technology will help more women treat a condition that is often not reported to docs due to embarrassment.
There are other things happening at the Holst Centre, but much of it is under wraps for reasons obvious to this audience. While we only saw a few things that have recently come out of the research at the facility, there’s a continuous stream of people working on new technologies that will help clinicians improve patient care.
Link: Holst Centre…