Research Scene

Are you one of an alarming 70 million adults in the U.S. suffering from insufficient sleep? If so, a mobile sleep-monitoring device whose prototype was researched and designed by a Bradley team of four engineering students and four business students may help one day. As members of one of three 2014–15 Bradley senior capstone convergence teams, they redesigned and repackaged the prototype of a mobile sleep-monitoring device currently used to detect obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Team members, from left: Anthony Hempen ’15, Tate Ralph ’15, Elizabeth Lafond ’15, William Rouse ’15, Jacob Northrup ’15 and Michael Chang ’15; not pictured: Stephen Tuning ’15.

Sleep problems add $15.9 billion to national health care costs, according to the team’s research. Although 84 distinct sleep disorders have currently been identified, the most prevalent is OSA. In addition to the 18 million affected, another 10 million go undiagnosed. The numbers are staggering, and the costs of the diagnostic tools are prohibitive.

“The bottom line is that diagnostic tests run at the hospital are expensive,” said Dr. Martin Morris ’77 MSME ’79, professor of mechanical engineering and course adviser for the capstone projects. “The Affordable Care Act is putting pressure on hospitals to provide the service at a lower cost. Without health insurance, an in-lab sleep test can cost approximately $5,000, while mobile tests costs hover around $500.”

Funded by Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center (JUMP) through executive director of operations Dr. Matthew Warrens, the team collaborated with Dr. Sarah Zallek, medical director for the Illinois Neurological Institute at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center (INI) to improve patient outcomes at the Sleep Center. The convergence project focused on enhancing a mobile sleep diagnostic device currently used at the INI, making it simple enough for patients to put on at home, but sophisticated enough to provide hospital-level feedback via cellphone. The prototype included the addition of sleep-staging functionality.

“One of the best aspects of these capstone projects is students must research the requirements and understand who needs the device,” said Dr. John Engdahl, Bradley’s Fites Chair in Engineering and project adviser. “Patients, physicians, technologists and others have a stake in the industry.”

Rouse, Chang, Lafond and Danielle Blazek ’15 try out the mobile sleep-monitoring device.

There’s No Place Like Home

According to the team’s research, the general trend in sleep studies is toward mobile diagnostics. The students worked to design a take-home prototype that provides physicians with valuable data. Easily applied, it allows patients to sleep in their own beds and will reduce costs significantly.

“The strongest argument is that people sleep best at home,” said Morris. “That’s why the iPhone came into discussion. Wouldn’t it be nice if the device could call in the results, maybe even while you are sleeping?”

Ralph checks data from a test run.

Researching the Market; Engineering a Solution 

Under the guidance of business course coordinator Ken Klotz and business project adviser Chad Stamper, business majors Danielle Blazek ’15, Anthony Hempen ’15, Jacob Northrup ’15 and Steven Tuning ’15 collaborated to provide the financial analysis, pricing and project positioning analysis, licensing strategy and promotional methods. They learned the medical device manufacturing market in the U.S. is currently at nearly $37 billion in total revenue, with a five-year market segment growth of 7.1 percent expected.

Engineering majors Michael Chang ’15, Elizabeth Lafond ’15, Tate Ralph ’15 and William Rouse ’15 focused on building circuits for sensors, performing and validating measurements, adding wireless capabilities to sensor circuitry, building sensor housing and performing tests with wireless transmission.

In addition to Zallek and Warrens, the team interviewed sleep technicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and registered nurses. “Dr. Zallek was generous with her time and complimentary of our team,” said Engdahl. 

Students completed a business analysis, competitor analysis, customer analysis and business model. They presented a functioning prototype, overcoming design challenges including sensor selection, DIY circuitry, economies of scale, and data acquisition, storage, processing and transferring.

The Bradley Convergence Experience

Elizabeth Lafond ’15, who currently serves as a research technician at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., believes the convergence project had a major impact on her career path. “Since the health care industry is becoming more proactive with diagnostics and treatment plans, it’s necessary for engineers to step up and help make those goals a reality, as well as make the system more efficient and cost-effective,” she said.

In addition to gaining skills in organization, presentation, and project management and leadership, Lafond collaborated with peers in a variety of majors in an environment that closely mimics the real world.

“I worked with students with backgrounds in marketing and entrepreneurship, to name a few,” she said. “It’s important to learn how to convey information in a way everyone can understand.”

Ultimately, the team provided a solution to guide JUMP and INI toward a mobile diagnostic market opportunity for a sleep device that combines the diagnostic accuracy of an in-lab study with the comfort of a normal night’s sleep for patients. 

“We are moving into a technological future that both engineers and business students must succeed in,” said Morris. “Our convergence capstone projects are a great way for them to get their feet wet.” 

—By Karen Crowley Metzinger M.A. ’97
Photography by Duane Zehr.