Researching the rhythm of life

By Everett Dorma Posted: August 11, 2015 6:00 a.m.

(L-R) Dr. Nick Carleton, Dr. Patrick Neary and Dr. David Gerhard with graduate student Sabine Soltani (seated) connected to a transcranial dopplar ultrasound, which measures cerebral blood flow velocity.
(L-R) Dr. Nick Carleton, Dr. Patrick Neary and Dr. David Gerhard with graduate student Sabine Soltani (seated) connected to a transcranial dopplar ultrasound, which measures cerebral blood flow velocity. U of R Photography

Collaborative research projects using acoustical analysis may help reduce health risks for people.
Psychology professor Dr. Nick Carleton’s work includes research into anxiety disorders, chronic pain, and traumatic stress. As part of an experiment into post-traumatic stress (PTS), participants’ heart rates were monitored with an electrocardiogram (ECG) during application of a potentially stressful stimulus.

Dr. Carleton says this research may lead to new technologies that could eventually improve mental and physical health.

“Millions of people around the world carry smart phones and other mobile devices that can monitor walking and heart rates and it may be possible to build on these applications to allow them to recognize specific changes in biometric patterns,” says Dr. Carleton.

“Acoustical analysis may be able to detect instability in the walking patterns of elderly individuals to prevent falls, or find changes in heart rate patterns associated with stress that could lead to preventative treatment measures being applied weeks or months in advance of problems.”

“I was interested in how physiological changes from stress over time may be associated with a predisposition to PTS,” says Dr. Carleton. “The experiment resulted in a great deal of data, including the ECG data.  It occurred to me that by working with our colleagues in kinesiology - who work with cardiac systems - and in computer science - who are used to dealing with large amounts of data - we would be better able to interpret the results. So, I talked with David Gerhard and Patrick Neary about the project and collaborating on similar projects.”

Computer science professor Dr. Gerhard, whose research interests include, in part, computational music says, “The ECG patterns appear very similar to acoustical patterns and so I thought perhaps acoustical analysis could be used to interpret the ECG data.  The music industry has developed and been using acoustic algorithms to analyze music for decades so it is quite easy to use these algorithms to analyze large amounts of data and find even very subtle changes in rhythmic patterns or frequencies.”

Acoustic analysis examines the pitch and frequency of sound and any biometric data that has a rhythmic, repetitive pattern or frequency, may be suitable for acoustic analysis.

Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies professor Dr. Patrick Neary’s research primarily focuses on cardiovascular function and concussions. 

“The opportunity to collaborate with Nick and David in looking at the physiological changes associated with stress, and the use of acoustical analysis to examine changes in heart rate patterns is exciting,” says Dr. Neary. “PTS and concussions often result in similar symptoms such as depression and anxiety, and in my work with concussions in athletes I’ve been measuring cerebral blood flow velocity using a transcranial dopplar ultrasound. Our published research has shown that cerebral blood flow is altered following a concussion. Now I’m also working with David to see if this information is suitable for acoustical analysis.”

“One of the great things about working in a smaller University is the ability to discuss your research and collaborate with researchers in different faculties, which can open up whole new opportunities for research,” says Carleton. “I’m currently developing a proof of concept PTS research project to examine changes in heart rate patterns using acoustical analysis.”

These collaborative interdisciplinary research projects align with the University of Regina’s new strategic plan priority of supporting research that has real world impact.