Alfaisal UniversityAlfaisal researchers develop a reconfigurable proning bed to improve ARDS treatment

Alfaisal researchers develop a reconfigurable proning bed to improve ARDS treatment

Conventional proning beds are not reconfigurable to support ARDS patients lying in the prone position. Researchers at Alfaisal University are changing this

The benefits of positioning patients with breathing difficulties on their front have been known for decades. The prone position, as it is called, improves pulmonary function and eliminates pressure on the lungs from the heart. In the 1970s, doctors began investigating whether proning could be helpful for patients diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Unfortunately, many patients find lying in the prone position uncomfortable, frustrating and isolating. Tarek Mokhtar, assistant professor of architectural engineering at Alfaisal University, has dedicated his research at the university’s Intelligent Design and Art (iDNA) research lab to developing a new generation of creative scientists who can create adaptive and intelligent ecologies and reinvent the physical world. One of his recent research proposals, which has recently received a US patent, focuses on an autonomous and user-input reconfigurable proning bed that will be of huge benefit to individuals suffering from ARDS.

“The proning bed that we are developing is actually more of an art piece,” Mokhtar says. “As well as its technological innovations, it also includes all sorts of entertainment potential to enhance the well-being of patients dealing with a life-threatening lung condition.”

Not only does Mokhtar’s proning bed help relieve transpulmonary pressure and improve oxygenation but it also provides additional support, comfort and configurability that isn’t available with a conventional bed. “We began working on the bed approximately one and a half years ago, starting with conceptual models and low-fidelity prototypes before moving on to more advanced simulations using scenario-based robotics techniques and CAD [computer-aided design] modelling tools,” Mokhtar adds.

The features of Mokhtar’s autonomous interactive and user-input reconfigurable proning bed include a head position system that is configurable and reconfigurable depending on the patient’s head size, position, orientation and preference. The bed includes positioning systems for the arms, legs and body and side rails, as well as an entertainment system. 

Although keeping patients in the prone position is increasingly important due to a rise in common respiratory illnesses such as Covid-19, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia and pulmonary ARDS, conventional patient beds are not designed to support proning for prolonged periods. Where proning beds are available, they are not generally adaptable to the physical characteristics and personal preferences of each patient. The negative psychological effects of proning are not usually considered. 

“There are communication and socialisation disadvantages with proning that aren’t addressed with conventional beds,” Mokhtar explains. “With our configurable and reconfigurable proning bed, there are sensors built into the entertainment positioning system so that patients can interact with digital technologies to read e-books, watch television or communicate with family and friends.”

The reconfigurable proning bed can accommodate hundreds of inputs from sensors placed in a multitude of positions. The bed can register inputs from the patient’s fingertips up to their arms and legs. It can even be configured to follow the direction of the patient’s eyes so that less-mobile patients can interact with the bed. “What’s more, the reconfigurable supporting elements of the bed can be saved so that the personalised needs of the patient are met when using the bed in the future,” Mokhtar continues.

Even features of the bed that may initially appear to be more of a luxury, such as the entertainment positioning system, serve a clinical purpose. By making it more comfortable for patients to lie in the prone position, the bed helps them to stick to their prescribed treatment plan. Depending on the severity of a patient’s ARDS diagnosis, proning may be advised for 12 hours or more at a time. 

As with most university research, Mokhtar understands that his work on a new type of proning bed can only deliver benefits to ARDS patients on a wide scale in collaboration with industry, government and other universities. “Individuals with ARDS are increasing, and we cannot stop at the research and patent levels,” he says. “We are seeking to work with industries that can manufacture this invention so it can be in our hospitals very soon.”

As part of his work within Alfaisal’s iDNA lab, Mokhtar and other academics explore futuristic strategies for embedding interactive technology in the very fabric of our physical environment. The research lab is primarily concerned with human needs and how creative technology can be used to support and meet them.

“We are trying to invent systems and solutions that will transform how we live in the coming century,” Mokhtar says. “We want to create a physical environment that can adapt to our needs, so we use design as a thinking tool. As part of this, we believe that art is essential to a new era of inventions. We are not aiming to simply create living machines but developing a hybridisation between art and science.

Evidence of this synergy between art and science is on display through Mokhtar’s autonomous and user-input reconfigurable proning bed. The invention is a creative and technological endeavour that serves both the clinical and entertainment needs of patients. “Our inventions are all about creating synergy between arts and science,” he says. “Artists, designers and futurists should all work together to create a bright future – one that we are seeking to be a part of. To help in reducing humanity’s struggles, art is an amazing field – something that scientists need to recognise.”

Mokhtar’s proning bed offers support to various parts of the body, providing the flexibility and ease of use that mean it can be deployed on a large scale. It does not require a carer or healthcare professional; it is as easy to use as the smartphones that have become ubiquitous in our personal lives. The bed includes a wide range of sensors, a central processing unit to learn from previous configurations and artificial intelligence tools to predict future needs. But it also has social and emotional components – an area that can be neglected when new technologies are deployed.

“We believe that the future depends on creative, revolutionary technologies that benefit from the hybridisation of art and science, especially design, robotics, the Internet of Things and others. We continuously explore synergies between art and technological and biological sciences. With that in mind, we are working hard to create and invent new tools today that will serve humanity long into the future.”

Find out more about the Intelligent Design and Art lab at Alfaisal.

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