Wearable Sensors May Predict Early Onset of Illness, Study Says

NEW YORK (360Dx) – During routine patient visits, physicians generally measure heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, but these parameters may need more frequent screening to achieve more effective results.

In a study, researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine said that wearable sensors may provide a viable solution. Published online Thursday in PLOS Biology, the paper demonstrates that wearable sensors that monitor heart rate, activity, skin temperature, and other variables can reveal inflammation, insulin resistance, and the onset of infection, even when a patient otherwise doesn't notice anything wrong.

Collecting nearly 2 billion measurements from 60 people, the researchers gathered continuous data from wearable biosensor devices, and periodic data about blood chemistry, gene expression, and other parameters from laboratory tests.

Each person wore several monitors so that the group could collect more than 250,000 measurements per day. They collected information about weight; heart rate; blood oxygen levels; and skin temperature. They also kept track of activities such as sleep; walking; the number of steps taken; biking and running; and other data including calories expended; acceleration; and exposure to gamma rays and X-rays.

The researchers noted that elevated heart rate and blood pressure are associated with cardiovascular disease, and elevated body temperature occurs during pathogen infection and inflammation. Their study demonstrated that by using wearables it is possible to monitor deviations from normal measurements and link them with environmental conditions, illness, or other factors that affect health.

Distinctive patterns of deviation from normal seem to correlate with health problems, and algorithms designed to detect these patterns of change could potentially contribute to clinical diagnostics and research, they added.

In a statement from Stanford, Michael Snyder, professor and chair of genetics at the university, and a study subject for the paper, said that sensors he wore detected changes in his heart rate and blood oxygen levels during a long flight to Norway. While his oxygen levels normally dropped during flights and while his heart rate increased at the start of flights, they would usually return to normal levels during the flight and after he landed.

However, at the end of this flight, that didn't happen.

Two weeks earlier, Snyder had been in rural Massachusetts and was concerned that he may have been bitten by a tick and infected with Lyme disease. He convinced a doctor in Norway to prescribe him an antibiotic to treat the disease, and subsequent testing confirmed that Snyder had, indeed, been infected with Lyme disease.

“Wearables helped make the initial diagnosis,” Snyder said in the university's statement.

Wearable sensors with diagnostic applications are taking steps toward commercialization.

In December 2016, for example, New York-based Nanowear became one of the few companies developing wearable diagnostic monitoring devices to receive regulatory clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration. The firm received 510(k) clearance for its first product, the SimplECG medical-grade cardiac vest, which collects electrocardiogram, heart rate, and respiratory rate data from nanosensors embedded in the garment and transfers it to a web-based portal for review by a physician.