Scientist sees the benefit of his health sensor research first-hand

Credit: Stanford.

A US scientist unexpectedly became a test case for the research he was carrying out when the seven sensor devices he was fitted with detected increased heart activity and lower than normal oxygen levels. Michael Snyder was notified of the change in levels during a flight for a holiday trip to Norway (which are not unusual during a flight), and when the readings from the devices did not return to normal (and he showed signs of a fever and other symptoms) he investigated further and found that he had contracted Lyme’s disease – which he likely picked up from an insect bite while he was working on his brother’s farm in Massachusetts a fortnight before the flight. When he arrived at his destination he received medical treatment and a dose of the antibiotic doxycycline which is used to treat the disease. According to Snyder, “wearables helped make the initial diagnosis”.

The research program Snyder is involved with is running at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Results of their research were recently published in leading science journal PLOS Biology. Snyder was one of the 60 test cases fitted with the range of sensors, which track a variety of data points including movement, heart-rate, skin temperate and oxygen consumption.This data is combined with the results of other lab tests including blood chemistry and genetic markers.

The research of Snyder and his team show that conditions ranging from infections to diabetes can be predicted by these sensors with more data to base the system’s prediction on: meaning that with more readings and participants the team can refine the predictive capacity of the system to associate changes in the wearer’s health with environmental, medical or other factors. “We want to study people at an individual level,” said Snyder.

Use of such devices in combination with laboratory testing has therefore been shown to detect signs of inflammation well, which is an early warning sign for conditions including cancer, autoimmune conditions and as Snyder’s case shows, Lyme’s disease. This cannot be detected by the devices alone, and currently the algorithms used in the system are being improved (at the moment they are not fully accurate). But, as Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Institute said when reviewing the paper: “what is good about what the authors did here is that they weren’t just relying on one device. They did everything they could with the kind of health sensors that are available today to get data that was meaningful.”

The Stanford team were already able to develop the system’s prediction of the presence of Type 2 diabetes in participants based on readings of heart rate and miles walked per day. Other organizations such as Seattle start-up Arivale are taking the same data-driven approach to improving their user’s health.The wearable technology industry has taken off in recent years, and while other devices that track simpler data points such as movement, the technology in this space is developing to a point where instant health monitoring is possible. This new level of functionality can provide a rich degree of information, notifying users of potentially dangerous changes in their health.

More information can be found at: Stanford.

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