Researchers develop stun gun that can monitor heart rate, rhythms

TASER weapons' probes were described as “functionally similar” to an EKG

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have successfully tested a modified conducted electrical weapon capable of recording a subject’s heart rate and rhythm while still delivering an incapacitating electrical charge.

TASER devices — the most popular brand of CEW — are widely used by law enforcement to disable criminals and threatening individuals without the use of a firearm. Though research has shown TASERs to be “stunningly safe” around 99.75 percent of the time, serious injuries and deaths have resulted from cardiac disruptions after the device’s electrical charge. Cases of serious injury and death often include other risk factors, including drug use and pre-existing medical conditions.

Dr. Jason P. Stopyra, a researcher and assistant professor of emergency medicine with Wake Forest Baptist, set out to equip a TASER with a heart-monitoring device to read a target’s heart rate and rhythm without compromising the weapon’s stopping power.

It seems like a stretch, but he says that the basic components of a TASER are “functionally similar” to what is used to obtain an EKG. Researchers developed and tested a prototype and published their findings in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine.

The team modified standard law enforcement CEW cartridges to transmit EKG signals, and then combined a miniaturized EKG recorder with a standard-issue CEW. When tested on human volunteers, the team was able to use their modded CEWs to get readable EKG rhythms even while delivering an incapacitating shock.

The senior author of the study, William B. Bozeman, M.D., said that the fully-developed modified stun guns could alert law enforcement to “potential medical issues in real-time” and promote the “rapid treatment of individuals who may suffer a medical crisis while in custody.”

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