News | Wearable Sensors | March 14, 2017

Clinical Study Uses Consumer Wearables to Anticipate Illness

NIH researchers are able to track health changes in one patient for two years with data from seven different wearable devices

wearable biosensors, anticipate illness, track health changes, PLOS Biology study

Wearable devices used in this study. The colors for different human figures indicate the specific studies in which each person participated. Red figures represent participation in all five studies; grey figures represent participation in the activity and insulin studies; blue, the activity, insulin sensitivity, and inflammation studies; orange and yellow, activity and air flights; green and pink, inflammation; and purple, air flights. Image courtesy of Li, et al, Stanford University.

March 14, 2017 — Researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health have revealed the ability of wearable biosensors, similar to the Apple Watch or Fitbit, to detect physiological changes that may indicate illness, even before symptoms appear. The findings, published Jan. 12, 2017, in PLoS Biology, may open the door to new ways to manage and monitor health, especially for those with limited access to doctors or clinics.

Changes in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature can reveal health issues, such as cardiovascular disease or infection. While these are evaluated at yearly checkups, without more frequent monitoring, diseases can go unnoticed and progress between doctor visits. Additionally, these parameters vary greatly over the course of the day and between individuals, so a one-time reading may not be representative or give enough information to make a personalized assessment.

Wearable biosensors, like fitness trackers and activity monitors, can now check these parameters regularly. Although many people have started using them for personal use, larger, more comprehensive studies are needed to investigate their potential in healthcare.

“You can’t really make any scientific conclusions from personal data,” said Grace Peng, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) program in Computational Modeling, Simulation, and Analysis. “Here, the authors have taken an enormous of amount of data and made sense out of the entirety in a very systematic way using data science tools and analytical methods.”

The team of researchers, from Stanford University and Veterans Affairs Palo Alto, first followed one man’s results for the two years that he wore seven different devices. Each device measured a variety of parameters, including his level of activity, radiation exposure and levels of oxygen-bound hemoglobin in his blood, and recorded more than 250,000 measurements each day. Based on its accuracy, ability to measure three key variables — heart rate, skin temperature and movement — and easily accessible data, they selected a Basis brand device to monitor an additional 43 subjects for an average of five months each.

In the first individual, they assessed how physiological measurements fluctuate over the course of the day, revealing the importance of frequent measurements, as a once-daily reading might not provide the whole picture. Comparing the other participants, they noted a wide range of heart rates, indicating the need for personalized analysis. The results also showed that wearable biosensors can provide both frequent measurements and personalized analysis.

Next, they evaluated instances when the readings appeared abnormal. The participant who was monitored for two years had four periods in which his heart rate and skin temperature were unusually high. During three of those periods, he reported clinical symptoms like congestion; following one of the outlying periods, he was diagnosed with Lyme disease. “The wearable was actually able to predict Lyme disease even before the patient had any symptoms,” said Peng.

Three other participants became sick at some point during the monitoring period. In each instance, the participant’s heart rate spiked, compared to his or her individual average. Using their data, the team created an algorithm, called Change-of-Heart, to identify possible illness based on when heart rate deviated from its normal range.

“It was incredibly exciting that we could actually detect illness using just a consumer wearable device,” said Jessilyn Dunn, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford University and one of the lead authors on the paper. To prevent false alarms, Dunn said they will continue to refine the algorithm to identify only true outliers and take into account one’s level of individual variability. She does not envision Change-of-Heart as a diagnostic tool just yet, but rather as a red flag to tell people they may need to examine their stress levels, get more rest, or see a doctor.

Although not a means of diagnosis yet, the study did raise the possibility of someday using wearable devices to identify risk for type 2 diabetes. Because many of the participants were at risk of becoming diabetic, the team was able to demonstrate the physiological signals, like high daytime heart rate, that correlated with insulin resistance. The study also investigated how parameters change during airplane flights and the ability of the monitors to detect radiation exposure.

The 24/7 monitors might also provide a more representative assessment of general health. “We know that the day that you go into the doctor once a year, it might not be your typical day, so we can get a picture of what that really is,” said Dunn.

Additionally, the trackers can monitor patients in rural or low-income areas that may not have easy access to a doctor. “For those individuals who can’t easily come into a clinic, they’re still under a sort of health surveillance mechanism,” Dunn said. “There’s a really exciting potential for this type of technology to really revolutionize the healthcare model.”

The research was funded in part by NIH grants, TR001085, EB020405, and DK102556.

For more information: www.journals.plos.org/plosbiology

Related Content

Sedentary Lifestyle Cancels Out Heart Benefits of Normal Weight
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | January 09, 2019
January 9, 2019 — Researchers at the University of Florida have found that low levels of physical activity can put he
Livongo Launches Applied Health Signals Product Category
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | November 30, 2018
Healthcare technology company Livongo recently announced the launch of its Applied Health Signals product category,...
HHS Releases Second Edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. #AHA2018 #AHA18
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | November 14, 2018
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines...
ACC and AHA Release Updated Cholesterol Guidelines for 2018. #AHA18 #AHA2018
Feature | Cardiac Diagnostics | November 13, 2018
November 13, 2018 — New cholesterol guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of
AMI READMITS Score Predicts Heart Attack Patients at High Readmission Risk
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | October 09, 2018
Tracking just seven factors of heart attack patients when they are first admitted to the hospital can help flag those...
Siemens Healthineers Showcases New In Vivo and In Vitro Cardiovascular Solutions at TCT 2018
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | September 21, 2018
At the 2018 Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics (TCT) conference, Sept. 21-25 in San Diego, Siemens Healthineers...
Weight Loss Drug Does Not Increase Cardiovascular Events
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | August 31, 2018
A weight loss drug does not increase cardiovascular events, according to late breaking results from the CAMELLIA-TIMI...
Acarix Presents CADScor System at ESC 2018
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | August 27, 2018
Acarix AB’s ultra-sensitive acoustic CADScor System for coronary artery disease risk assessment will be on display at...
NIH Ending Funding for Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health Trial
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | August 24, 2018
The National Institutes of Health announced in June it plans to end funding to the Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular...
Study Shows Multiple Benefits of Patient-to-Patient Connectivity in Familial Chylomicronemia Syndrome
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | August 07, 2018
Akcea Therapeutics Inc., an affiliate of Ionis Pharmaceuticals Inc., announced the publication of results from the...
Overlay Init