U-M Researching Heart Monitoring in Cars

A grant from Toyota is funding research by Dr. Kayvan Najarian, director of data science at the Michigan Center for Integrative Research in Critical Care to study monitoring driver’s heart rates to help prevent accidents. If a cardiac event while driving it can lead to accidents and injuries.

Najarian and the team want to create a system that could be placed in the vehicle to monitor and predict an adverse cardiac event.

“We would like to test hardware we had previously identified, and improve and validate our algorithmic solutions to see what it will take to generate a system that could look at the physiology of a person, provided by high-density electrocardiogram (ECG) measurements, as well as other medical measurements,” Najarian says.

His goal: “To come up with a system that would predict the occurrence of adverse cardiac events in real time.”

The research team will  use machine-learning models to analyze the data collected from in-hospital and in-vehicle subjects. The research team will then test the system on real-time prediction of cardiac events.

Challenges have already been identified.

“There are actually quite a few obstacles that were identified during the initial grant,” Najarian says. “You can’t have clinical-grade monitoring devices in the vehicle. You need to use a high-quality monitoring device in the vehicle that, despite all the in-vehicle noise, could reliably register the driver’s ECG without being large and obtrusive. It’s going to have to be different than what you would expect to experience in a clinical or hospital setting.”

A car’s size isn’t the only deterrent. Car noise can be a problem. A challenge for vehicle applications is having a system that can detect small changes in heart rhythms but can also separate out the noise and motion that happens inside the vehicle. In an ICU, there are all types of mechanisms in place to ensure that the monitors are not experiencing electronic interference. That’s not as easy inside a vehicle.

At this point, the research team will begin gathering the physiological data from the driver using heart monitors approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Such monitors are patches placed on the driver’s chest that analyze physiological data in real time.

Researchers will continue to test and validate algorithmic and hardware options that could be placed inside the vehicle to monitor the driver’s heart. The team hopes to report results in 2020.

Najarian explains that these kinds of vehicle crashes could become a larger public health issue as the nation’s senior population grows.

Which is why, he says, the research should continue.

“When we analyzed crash statistics already reported by different agencies, we found that drivers 65 years of age and older have a lot of medical-related issues that are related to vehicle crashes,” Najarian says. “We can infer from that information that there could be a higher number of crashes in the future as the population is aging.

“By 2030, there will be an increased number of older-age drivers, which could increase the number of medical events happening behind the wheel,” he says.

“That’s motivation for us to start exploring this important topic now.”