Researchers have used Microsoft's Kinect sensors to assemble an accurate lung diagnostics kit

Xbox Kinect gaming tech helps patients with respiratory problems

Gaming motion sensors have been repurposed by British researchers to monitor breathing of patients with serious lung conditions.

A team of scientists from the University of Warwick has used a set of Kinect sensors, sold by Microsoft as accessories for its Xbox game consoles, to accurately monitor the breathing of patients with cystic fibrosis.

Four sensors have been used to generate 3D visualisations of how the patient’s chest wall moves.

“We have developed a low-cost prototype which provides a more comprehensive measurement of a patient’s breathing then existing methods,” said Chris Golby, from the University of Warwick’s Institute of Digital Healthcare, who participated in the research.

In tests, the method has proven to be as reliable as the most commonly used spirometry, whilst also providing some additional insight not obtainable from the spirometer. Using the Kinect sensors, the researchers were able to gain better understanding of which part of the lungs is experiencing problems.

“There are some conditions that doctors can’t detect or assess using spirometry such as collapsed lung segments or respiratory muscle weakness,” Golby explained. “Our prototype allows physicians to make accurate assessments. It is also potentially very useful in assessing changes in respiratory physiology that occur during exercise.”

During a spirometry measurement, the patient is asked to inhale as deeply as he or she can and then exhale into a sensor with full force. For some people, however, the test could be difficult to carry out. Especially those with muscle weaknesses or some facial abnormalities could struggle to form a tight seal around the mouthpiece, which results in inaccurate readings.

Babu Naidu, chief investigator of the project from the University of Birmingham and thoracic surgeon at Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust described the technology as ‘game changing’. “In screening, diagnostics, monitoring therapy and providing bio feedback, the Xbox can be used in any condition affecting breathing,” he said.

The team has tested the prototype on healthy volunteers and adult patients with cystic fibrosis. They now plan to upgrade the prototype with the newest version of Microsoft’s Kinect technology and test it also on patients with other lung problems.

Respiratory diseases kill one in five people in the UK and cost the NHS more than £6bn a year. The technology used in the experiment could be purchased for about £400.

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