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Building knowledge to reduce deaths from respiratory illnesses

25 August 2023

UC Engineering PhD students have created a tool, affectionately known as BOB, to help prevent the third leading cause of death in New Zealand.


PhD students, from left, Jaimey Clifton, Trudy Caljé-van der Klei and Ella Guy are making information more accessible for those with acute and chronic respiratory illnesses.

Breath-to-Breath Observed Biometrics, or BOB, is being developed by Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha University of Canterbury (UC) PhD students Ella Guy, Jaimey Clifton, and Trudy Caljé-van der Klei, who were conducting individual research and found that respiratory data is locked inside medical devices and inaccessible by everyone, including patients.

However, there was a simple solution that would provide immense value for patient monitoring, helping clinicians and patients across Aotearoa New Zealand. BOB provides real-time, high quality, breath-to-breath data, for the patient and their clinician to use.

<img src="" alt="" style="    " class="img-responsive additional-image"> Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 - Good Health and Well-Being

“With BOB, more frequent monitoring can be as simple as breathing normally into the device each morning. Our research has created specialised software to interpret and send these results to your GP, providing data-driven care that isn’t currently possible with appointments every one to three months,” says Ella Guy.

“Current testing for respiratory illnesses, such as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder), can take a long time and be costly. A diagnosis can take multiple visits to specialised clinics which do not have the capacity to be accessed by everyone.”

Specifically, current respiratory testing can be difficult to access outside of main centres, have long waits for appointments, and be difficult for children, elderly and those with severe illnesses. 

Jaimey Clifton noted over the last few years there have been significant increases in a wide range of respiratory illnesses. However, the capacity to treat these patients has not significantly changed, “this software can help provide more automated diagnosis and frequent monitoring of patients than is available today, which would reduce pressure on scarce and valuable clinician time.”

“Because appointments and follow-up can be scarce due to cost and time, it is also possible patients have struggled for some time and needed a change in care. BOB offers the opportunity to track objective metrics every day and for clinicians, or even software, to notice current care is not working optimally, and then to suggest changes.”

Similarly, BOB can be used in conjunction with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices used to treat sleep apnea and COPD, to optimise how the device is used. You can read more about the final year student research on a low-cost CPAP device here.

Trudy Caljé-van der Klei believes there could be acute applications too, “we see potential for this device to be used in intensive care units to help inform when a mechanically ventilated patient should be extubated, or when to change care so they are in the unit for less time – all of which saves time, clinical effort, and cost. Currently clinicians do not have the data readily available to make these decisions as optimally as possible.”

Their supervisors, Distinguished Professor Geoff Chase, Dr Jennifer Knopp, and Dr Lui Holder-Pearson note, “Our hope, as a team, is as that as our research progresses, this software can be commercialised and used across many healthcare areas and units to improve care and outcomes for those with chronic and acute respiratory illnesses, while reducing stress on an overburdened healthcare system.”

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