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U Maine Researchers Get $1 Million For High Tech Bedding

ORONO, Maine - A research team from the University of Maine has received a $1 million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health to further its work on a diagnostic sleep monitoring system.

The project from Activas Diagnostics, a company founded by a pair of U Maine professors, aims to detect various cognitive and neurologic impairments in seniors, something that currently requires patients to travel to a lab to undergo potentially stressful testing.

"The way it works now is they hook you up to lots of wires, they put a video camera on you and everything. The results really are not that good." says Ali Abedi. Abedi is a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and one of the founders of Activas Diagnostics.  Rather than creating data-skewing anxiety and disrupting patients' lives with a trip to a clinic, Abedi says their design involves nothing scarier than making a bed at home.

"It's like a simple fitted sheet you take home and put it on your mattress pad. The sensors are all inside, the data is collected wirelessly so you don't really see anything, or don't get hooked up to anything, but what it does is it monitors your movement during sleep."

The sheet measures a number of vital signs, including respiration, wakefulness, and the micro-movements that occur during deep, light, and REM phases of sleep.  A patented algorithm decodes the data to assist in a diagnosis. 

In this new two-year phase of the project, geriatric patients of Acadia Hospital, some with cognitive disease and some without, will participate in tests. Eventually, the technology will "learn" what sleep indicative of Alzheimers looks like.

"It's kind of like artificial intelligence." says Abedi. "Next, when somebody unknown comes and sleeps on it, based on the pattern of sleep, we can match it to some of those groups and say this person has this disease, or no."

Activas Diagnostics was founded in 2009 with funds from the U.S. Department of Defense. Additional funding has come from NASA and the Maine Technology Institute. The latest funding comes as a Small Business Innovation Research Award from the National Institutes of Health Institute on Aging.