Wearable sensor aims to flag when you’re getting sick

Posted Jan 18, 2017 by Tim Sandle
Smart watches and other wearable technologies are effective at monitoring vital signs and reporting on overall health, but can the technology be developed to actually signal when you might be getting sick? One research group thinks so.
A fertility tracking bracelet by Ava Science Inc.
A fertility tracking bracelet by Ava Science Inc.
© Ava Science Inc.
The idea of a ‘real time’ indicator of impending illness has been proposed by Stanford University scientists. They have built-up the case by monitoring 60 people two years, using biosensors. The research suggests that an improved smart watch should be able to signal the early onset of colds, diabetes and illnesses like Lyme disease.
Explaining the aim of the research, lead researcher Professor Michael Snyder explains: “We want to tell when people are healthy and also catch illnesses at their earliest stages.” This is based on the collection of a range of measurements.
Looking at the data from the subjects over the two year period and correlating this with medical reports and information provided by the subjects, Professor Snyder thinks it is possible to build an accurate smart watch, capable of early signalling about impending illnesses.
The types of information collected relates to heart rate and skin temperature. These signal about key changes to a person’s physiology; for example, heart rate and skin temperature tends to rise when people become ill. Such information is useful but it needs to be interpreted. For this, the researchers developed a software package called 'Change of Heart.'
In tests the software was able to accurately predict a range of colds and flu, as well as a case of Lyme disease. Ironically the Lyme disease case was in Professor Synder. The researcher explains in an interview: "I had elevated heart rate and decreased oxygen at the start of my vacation and knew something was not quite right.” A course of antibiotics resolved the tick-borne bacterial infection.
With other analyses, those with indications of insulin resistance showed variations in heart rate patterns. A further point of interest is with the reduction in blood oxygen levels on flights which lead to excessive tiredness.
The research overall was deemed successful and it points towards a new generation of smart watches and apps operating as health dashboard, providing clues about sensing early signs of illness.
The research is published in the journal PLOS Biology and it is headed “Digital Health: Tracking Physiomes and Activity Using Wearable Biosensors Reveals Useful Health-Related Information.”