SME Update – an insight into digital medicine

eMedicine of tomorrow

Dec 15, 2015 | AMANDA ARROYO
Electronic connectivity and data exchange are becoming more and more important for the medical products of tomorrow. The SME Update at Empa has shown how doctors and researchers imagine the future of digital medicine and what research projects they are involved in to make this future a reality.
When glass fibers are pressed together, they conduct less light. This is why they can be used as pressure sensors. In addition, the fibers are easily integrated into textiles – perfect prerequisites for use in the medicine of tomorrow.

To make the interplay between science and medicine easier to understand for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the St. Gallen region, the Cantonal Office for the Economy and Labour invited them to the SME Update at Empa at the end of November. In her opening speech, Heidi Hanselmann, member of the Governing Council of the Canton of St. Gallen, emphasized the importance of the Cantonal Hospital St. Gallen and Empa for the location. The Cantonal Hospital and Empa already work closely together in various projects to develop the medicine of tomorrow.

“Measuring is the basis of modern medicine”, says Martin Brutsche, chief physician for Pneumology at the Cantonal Hospital St. Gallen. His vision is the continuous monitoring of patients using sensors, registering parameters such as movement and heartbeat. As soon as the patient suffers a medical event, a specialist would be alerted via smartphone and can rush to their assistance. This is referred to as ‘telemonitoring’ and can for example have significant effects in sleep medicine. Sleep apnea occurs when the patient does not have enough space in their throat. When that person is sleeping, the muscles relax and their breathing stops. The person is then often woken from deep sleep. Chronic overtiredness leads to an increased risk of self-endangerment and also to more heart attacks. The ECG developed at Empa could allow doctors to make a remote diagnosis in the future. Telemedicine can thus raise efficiency and lower hospital costs.

Empa researcher René Rossi, Head of the “Protection and Physiology” Lab shows his latest developments in the area of textiles to Martin Brutsche, Senior Consultant for Pneumology at Cantonal Hospital St. Gallen.
The T-shirt that is also a measuring device

René Rossi, Head of the Empa “Protection and Physiology” Lab, works hand in hand with the Cantonal Hospital St. Gallen. His research group develops sensors that can be used to monitor a patient’s temperature, pulse or heartbeat for example. Sensors like these are best integrated in textiles, explains Rossi. That because textiles are kind to the skin and as well as that we are covered in textiles almost round the clock. As a result, textile sensors can provide more data than traditional sensors. Among others, Rossi‘s group developed the textile ECG that has potential uses in the field of sleep medicine.

Ulrich Reimer from the University of Applied Sciences in St. Gallen is also thinking about the long-term monitoring of patients, and has developed a smartphone app that is able to detect stress. It measures heart frequency and how it fluctuates. Both of these are factors that provide information on a person‘s current stress level. During the development phase of the app, the heartbeat is still measured using a chest strap. But in the long term, this is too unpleasant for the patients. Consequently Reimer would also like to integrate the sensors in textiles. In addition to heart frequency, there are other parameters such as hormone level, skin conductance and blood pressure that indicate stress levels. He also wants to integrate these parameters in the app. When a person is stressed, the smartphone will warn the patient and give instructions for some relaxation exercises.


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More information
Dr. René Rossi
Empa, Protection and Physiology
Phone +41 58 765 7765


Dr. Roger Herger
Department of Economic Affairs in the Canton of St. Gallen
Phone +41 58 229 03 76


Editor / Media contact
Rainer Klose
Empa, Communications
Phone +41 58 765 47 33