Remote Heart Diagnosis Through Digital Tablets: Arthur Zang at TEDxCERN (Transcript)

I love action movies, especially when a car passes through a building, and I know it can be dangerous, but when you watch it on TV you just don’t care about the danger because we are outside of the scene. So we just enjoy the moment.

But if we pay attention, every time in a movie when a car accident happens nurses try to save the patient by connecting him to a device that plus chained curves that only doctors know the meaning of. In 2009, I was a student in my fourth year in Computer Science at the National Advanced School of Engineering of Yaounde, and every time I saw this device on TV, I asked myself what it was, what those curves represented, and how I could use my skills to develop a software that can do the same thing in my own way. Day after day, my curiosity grew.

One day, during a database course that I certainly found very boring, I decided to leave the classroom to find a cardiologist who could help me satisfy my curiosity. This is how, at the General Hospital of Yaounde, I met Professor Samuel Kingué a cardiologist who would teach me everything about the basics of medical engineering in cardiology.

He had been waiting for a good engineer for a very long time, and I was looking just for one thing: a good reason to skip classes. Everything was perfect. I have been working together with the professor for one year on the digital signal processing, and under his supervision, I have developed a small application that was able to detect heartbeats, the heart signals of a patient, and compute the heart rates. The results of our work were very good, which allowed us to publish two scientific articles in the Cardiology Journal of Cameroon in 2009. This was amazing for me, because I was just 22 years old, and my name was already on two pages of a scientific journal.

For the professor, I was the good guy. A few weeks later, he called me, and he told me, “Arthur, you’ve done a very good job. This is why I want you to think about another problem. In my work, I deal with so many patients who live in villages and every time they want to perform a cardiac examination, they have to come into town and wait for hours. This is a very long and expensive trip for them.

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It is also very difficult for me to make a follow-up remotely. Can you think about a solution for this problem?” Later, in 2010, I’d discover that in Cameroon, there were only 40 cardiologists for more than 20 million people. So it sounded like a duty for me, and I decided to do something. First, I’d develop a software for my master’s degree, with which one was able to perform a heart examination on a PC, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to develop a complete solution.

I was thinking about a solution that could include both the hardware and the software. This is how, progressively, the tablet appeared in my mind. I decided to call it the CardioPad. A touch-screen device used to perform heart examinations, computer-assisted diagnosis, and medical de-touch [ph] for the telemedicine. But in order to succeed and develop this device, I would have to first face two major difficulties: Firstly, the knowledge, and secondly, the money

I am a computer science engineer, so, in order to implement this project, I needed to learn electronics and English. Thanks to a set of video courses provided by the Indian Institute of Technology. I successfully learned online the basics of digital electronics and embedded systems. This knowledge allowed me to design the tablet on the electronic end. But how to build my prototype without any money? My work was not very formal so I had no revenue. Fortunately for me, my mother is a nurse, and she believed in my project.

I asked her to take a loan from the bank for me, which she did. Previously, I had sent the electronic diagram of my prototype to Microsoft, and the project was selected for a competition called Microsoft. Imagine Cup, in 2011 Microsoft sent us a set of materials, including the hardware and the software, and we developed an embedded operating system and programs. Using these materials, I was able to develop a small embedded operating system for the tablet, and I also develop the program that will collect and process the medical data on the device. Using the money obtained from the bank loan, I was able to purchase the components I needed that I eventually assembled.

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Then I deployed the operating system and the program on the motherboard of the device. At that moment, the prototype was finished. I needed to transform this prototype in my first complete device. But in order to do that, I needed more money. At that moment, my family could no longer fund my project so I decided to use the Internet to raise more funds.

So, I recorded a small video called “CardioPad First Live Demo,” and I released this video on YouTube. After posting and sharing this video on social media, the video got 3,000 views in three days. It was unbelievable for me. The project’s success on the Internet involved many journalists who wrote many articles about the project, and this is how the President of Cameroon read an article about the project in a local newspaper, and he decided to grant me 37,000 US dollars. With this grant, I formed a team, and I started to work with two local engineers in Cameroon.

I went to China to manufacture my device. I met several entrepreneurs with whom I’d been previously in contact on the Internet, thus I was able to manufacture 30 complete devices. I and my team continued to work on the development of the device, and on the development of a large-scale data collection system until the end of 2012. Then I had to figure out how to launch the project on a large scale. We didn’t have enough money, so we decided to record a new video demonstration showing how to CardioPad works on a real patient, and how it can be used to transfer medical data through a 3G network.

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