HEALTH experts from Swansea are developing a hand-held device to diagnose and predict the worsening of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in patients.
The brains behind the technology, Dr Paul Lewis, of Swansea University's Centre for NanoHealth, is linking up with Welsh firm Glyconics Ltd to assess the device's performance.
COPD is an umbrella term to describe a range of chronic lung diseases that cause limitations in lung airflow, and includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
In the UK, COPD is estimated to affect some six million people and is responsible for more than 25,000 deaths annually.
But around half of sufferers are said to be unaware of their condition, which can put extra strain on hospitals further down the line.
Poor recognition and treatment of respiratory failure increases the risk of mortality.
There is currently no state-of-the-art technology to identify early markers of disease exacerbation in COPD, but Dr Lewis has identified a cost-effective way of getting around this — thanks to a technique known as Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy.
He said: "Utilising infrared COPD bio-markers and modern electronic and optical components, the ultimate goal is to develop a hand-held, miniaturised device for easy detection and monitoring by healthcare workers.
"This phase-one study will hopefully prepare the ground for a full phase-two project, through evaluation of the technical, clinical, regulatory, and commercial viability of the technology, and the preparation of a full implementation and commercial strategy."
The Centre for NanoHealth's collaboration with Cardiff-based Glyconics Ltd has been boosted with a development contract via the Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare.
Dr Berwyn Clarke, chief executive of Glyconics Ltd, said that as COPD progressed, patients have to attend hospital more and more frequently.
Dr Clarke said: "This hand-held technology not only allows more accurate diagnosis of COPD at point- of-care but is also able to detect the onset of exacerbations very early.
"This is extremely important to the NHS since exacerbations are a major factor in the £1 billion per annum cost of managing COPD."