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BACKGROUND: Ventilator-induced diaphragm dysfunction occurs rapidly following the onset of mechanical ventilation and has significant clinical consequences. Phrenic nerve stimulation has shown promise in maintaining diaphragm function by inducing diaphragm contractions. Non-invasive stimulation is an attractive option as it minimises the procedural risks associated with invasive approaches. However, this method is limited by sensitivity to electrode position and inter-individual variability in stimulation thresholds. This makes clinical application challenging due to potentially time-consuming calibration processes to achieve reliable stimulation. METHODS: We applied non-invasive electrical stimulation to the phrenic nerve in the neck in healthy volunteers. A closed-loop system recorded the respiratory flow produced by stimulation and automatically adjusted the electrode position and stimulation amplitude based on the respiratory response. By iterating over electrodes, the optimal electrode was selected. A binary search method over stimulation amplitudes was then employed to determine an individualised stimulation threshold. Pulse trains above this threshold were delivered to produce diaphragm contraction. RESULTS: Nine healthy volunteers were recruited. Mean threshold stimulation amplitude was 36.17 +/- 14.34mA (range 19.38 - 59.06mA). The threshold amplitude for reliable nerve capture was moderately correlated with BMI (Pearson's r = 0.66, p = 0.049). Repeating threshold measurements within subjects demonstrated low intra-subject variability of 2.15 +/- 1.61mA between maximum and minimum thresholds on repeated trials. Bilateral stimulation with individually optimised parameters generated reliable diaphragm contraction, resulting in significant inhaled volumes following stimulation. CONCLUSION: We demonstrate the feasibility of a system for automatic optimisation of electrode position and stimulation parameters using a closed-loop system. This opens the possibility of easily deployable individualised stimulation in the intensive care setting to reduce ventilator-induced diaphragm dysfunction.

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Electrical stimulation, closed loop, critical care, phrenic nerve, ventilator induced diaphragm dysfunction