Staff member


Dolores Blanco Almazán

PhD Student
Biomedical Signal Processing and Interpretation
dblanco@ibecbarcelona.eu
+34 934 020 559
Staff member publications

Castillo, Y., Blanco, D., Whitney, J., Mersky, B., Jané, R., (2017). Characterization of a tooth microphone coupled to an oral appliance device: A new system for monitoring OSA patients Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC) 39th Annual International Conference of the IEEE , IEEE (Seogwipo, South Korea) , 1543-1546

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a highly prevalent chronic disease, especially in elderly and obese populations. Despite constituting a serious health, social and economic problem, most patients remain undiagnosed and untreated due to limitations in current equipment. In this work, we propose a novel method to diagnose OSA and monitor therapy adherence and effectiveness at home in a non-invasive and inexpensive way: combining acoustic analysis of breathing and snoring sounds with oral appliance therapy (OA). Audiodontics has introduced a new sensor, a tooth microphone coupled to an OA device, which is the main pillar of this system. The objective of this work is to characterize the response of this sensor, comparing it with a commercial tracheal microphone (Biopac transducer). Signals containing OSA-related sounds were acquired simultaneously with the two microphones for that purpose. They were processed and analyzed in time, frequency and time-frequency domains, in a custom MATLAB interface. We carried out a single-event approach focused on breaths, snores and apnea episodes. We found that the quality of the signals obtained by both microphones was quite similar, although the tooth microphone spectrum concentrated more energy at the high-frequency band. This opens a new field of study about high-frequency components of snores and breathing sounds. These characteristics, together with its intraoral position, wireless option and combination with customizable OAs, give the tooth microphone a great potential to reduce the impact of sleep disorders, by enabling prompt detection and continuous monitoring of patients at home.

Keywords: Microphones, Teeth, Sleep apnea, Time-frequency analysis, Signal to noise ratio, Monitoring, Acoustics


Castillo, Y., Camara, M. A., Blanco-Almazan, D., Jane, R., (2017). Characterization of microphones for snoring and breathing events analysis in mHealth Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC) 39th Annual International Conference of the IEEE , IEEE (Seogwipo, South Korea) , 1547-1550

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is one of the most common sleep disorders, especially in elderly population. Despite its high prevalence and severe consequences, most patients remain undiagnosed due to serious limitations on the existing equipment. Efforts are being done to find cost-effective alternatives and mHealth solutions could play a key role. One promising approach in this context is the acoustic analysis of snoring. The sensor it requires is a microphone, which is widely available in different models and even integrated in smartphones. The objective of this work is to characterize and compare the responses of two commercial tracheal microphones and a mHealth-based microphone, as a proof-of-concept to evaluate their potential as sensors for OSA detection. To do that, we designed an experimental protocol to study OSA-related events (breaths, snores and apneas) simulated by 4 subjects. Test signals were simultaneously recorded with different microphones and posteriorly processed and analyzed. We accurately characterized the frequency response of the two commercial microphones, finding that one of them was too restrictive (bandwidth 50-250 Hz) and thus not suitable as snoring sensor for high-frequency acoustic analysis. Regarding smartphones, we studied the Samsung Galaxy S5 microphone. We found that, when located over the thorax, it provided quality signals comparable to those of tracheal microphones, with a broader frequency response. Further work is required, but this preliminary study suggests that acoustic analysis of snoring through mHealth solutions can be a feasible alternative to screen and monitor OSA patients at home.


Camara, M. A., Castillo, Y., Blanco-Almazan, D., Estrada, L., Jane, R., (2017). MHealth tools for monitoring Obstructive Sleep Apnea patients at home: Proof-of-concept Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC) 39th Annual International Conference of the IEEE , IEEE (Seogwipo, South Korea) , 1555-1558

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that affects mainly the adult and elderly population. Due to the high percentage of patients who remain undiagnosed and untreated because of limitations of current diagnosis methods, the management of OSA is an important social, scientific and economic problem that will be difficult to be assumed by health systems. On the other hand, smartphone platforms (mHealth systems) are being considered as an innovative solution, thanks to the integration of the essential sensors to obtain clinically relevant parameters in the same device or in combination with wireless wearable devices.

Keywords: Sleep apnea, Microphones, Monitoring, Sensors, Accelerometers, Biomedical monitoring, Band-pass filters


Early morbidity and mortality in patients with Marfan syndrome (MFS) -a connective tissue disease caused by mutations in fibrillin-1 gene- are mainly caused by aorta aneurysm and rupture. However, the increase in the life expectancy of MFS patients recently achieved by reparatory surgery promotes clinical manifestations in other organs. Although some studies have reported respiratory alterations in MFS, our knowledge of how this connective tissue disease modifies lung mechanics is scarce. Hence, we assessed whether the stiffness of the whole lung and of its extracellular matrix (ECM) is affected in a well-characterized MFS mouse model (FBN1C1039G/+). The stiffness of the whole lung and of its ECM were measured by conventional mechanical ventilation and atomic force microscopy, respectively. We studied 5-week and 9-month old mice, whose ages are representative of early and late stages of the disease. At both ages, the lungs of MFS mice were significantly more compliant than in wild type (WT) mice. By contrast, no significant differences were found in local lung ECM stiffness. Moreover, histopathological lung evaluation showed a clear emphysematous- like pattern in MFS mice since alveolar space enlargement was significantly increased compared with WT mice. These data suggest that the mechanism explaining the increased lung compliance in MFS is not a direct consequence of reduced ECM stiffness, but an emphysema-like alteration in the 3D structural organization of the lung. Since lung alterations in MFS are almost fully manifested at an early age, it is suggested that respiratory monitoring could provide early biomarkers for diagnosis and/or follow-up of patients with the Marfan syndrome.


Castillo, Y., Blanco, D., Cámara, M.A., Jané, R., (2016). Study of time-frequency characteristics of single snores: extracting new information for sleep apnea diagnosis CASEIB Proceedings XXXIV Congreso Anual de la Sociedad Española de Ingeniería Biomédica (CASEIB 2016) , Sociedad Española de Ingeniería Biomédica (Valencia, Spain) , 105-108

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a highly prevalent chronic disease, especially in elderly and obese population. Despite constituting a huge health and economic problem, most patients remain undiagnosed due to limitations in current strategies. Therefore, it is essential to find cost-effective diagnostic alternatives. One of these novel approaches is the analysis of acoustic snoring signals. Snoring is an early symptom of OSA which carries pathophysiological information of high diagnostic value. For this reason, the main objective of this work is to study the characteristics of single snores of different types, from healthy and OSA subjects. To do that, we analyzed snoring signals from previous databases and developed an experimental protocol to record simulated OSA-related sounds and characterize the response of two commercial tracheal microphones. Automatic programs for filtering, downsampling, event detection and time-frequency analysis were built in MATLAB. We found that time-frequency maps and spectral parameters (central, mean and peak frequency and energy in the 100-500 Hz band) allow distinguishing regular snores of healthy subjects from non-regular snores and snores of OSA subjects. Regarding the two commercial microphones, we found that one of them was a suitable snoring sensor, while the other had a too restricted frequency response. Future work shall include a higher number of episodes and subjects, but our study has contributed to show how important the differences between regular and non-regular snores can be for OSA diagnosis, and how much clinically relevant information can be extracted from time-frequency maps and spectral parameters of single snores.


Objective - Marfan's syndrome is characterized by the formation of ascending aortic aneurysms resulting from altered assembly of extracellular matrix microfibrils and chronic tissue growth factor (TGF)-β signaling. TGF-β is a potent regulator of the vascular smooth muscle cell (VSMC) phenotype. We hypothesized that as a result of the chronic TGF-β signaling, VSMC would alter their basal differentiation phenotype, which could facilitate the formation of aneurysms. This study explores whether Marfan's syndrome entails phenotypic alterations of VSMC and possible mechanisms at the subcellular level. Approach and Results - Immunohistochemical and Western blotting analyses of dilated aortas from Marfan patients showed overexpression of contractile protein markers (α-smooth muscle actin, smoothelin, smooth muscle protein 22 alpha, and calponin-1) and collagen I in comparison with healthy aortas. VSMC explanted from Marfan aortic aneurysms showed increased in vitro expression of these phenotypic markers and also of myocardin, a transcription factor essential for VSMC-specific differentiation. These alterations were generally reduced after pharmacological inhibition of the TGF-β pathway. Marfan VSMC in culture showed more robust actin stress fibers and enhanced RhoA-GTP levels, which was accompanied by increased focal adhesion components and higher nuclear localization of myosin-related transcription factor A. Marfan VSMC and extracellular matrix measured by atomic force microscopy were both stiffer than their respective controls. Conclusions - In Marfan VSMC, both in tissue and in culture, there are variable TGF-β-dependent phenotypic changes affecting contractile proteins and collagen I, leading to greater cellular and extracellular matrix stiffness. Altogether, these alterations may contribute to the known aortic rigidity that precedes or accompanies Marfan's syndrome aneurysm formation.

Keywords: Actin, Aortic aneurysms, Aortic stiffness, Extracellular matrix, Focal adhesion, Myocardin, RhoA, TGF-β


Marfan syndrome (MFS) is a genetic disorder caused by mutations in the FBN1 gene that codifies for fibrilin-1. MFS affects elastic fiber formation and the resulting connective tissue shows abnormal tissue laxity and organization. Although an increased prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea among patients with MFS has been described, the potential effects of this genetic disease on the collapsible properties of the upper airway are unknown. The aim of this study was to assess the collapsible properties of the upper airway in a mouse model of MFS Fbn1(C1039G/+) that is representative of most of the clinical manifestations observed in human patients. The upper airway in wild-type and Marfan mice was cannulated and its critical pressure (Pcrit) was measured in vivo by increasing the negative pressure through a controlled pressure source. Pcrit values from MFS mice were higher (less negative) compared to wild-type mice (-3.1±0.9cmH2O vs. -7.8±2.0cm H2O) suggesting that MFS increases the upper airway collapsibility, which could in turn explain the higher prevalence of OSA in MFS patients.

Keywords: Marfan syndrome, Obstructive sleep apnea, Upper airway collapsibility