Researchers are developing wearable devices to transform the way we monitor, diagnose, and treat acute and chronic diseases, including COVID-19.
Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Freiburg have proposed using wearable devices to build a network of health data about a patient that allows early diagnosis of COVID-19, even if the patient is asymptomatic.
More and more people are using wearable devices to better understand their health. This is also known as “quantified self-movement”. Various exciting new devices are being developed, including tattoos, contact lenses and clothing, that can monitor various health signals and provide real-time data about our bodies. Now researchers have suggested that these data could help diagnose and treat COVID-19.
The article was published in Nature Electronics.
Smartphones, fitness trackers and smartwatches have drastically changed the way we understand our personal health and fitness. With these devices, we can monitor our wellbeing by measuring heart rate, exercise, and even blood oxygen levels.
“The main advantage of wearables is that they can capture real-time information. This could change the way we collect medical data by measuring trends and abrupt metabolic changes between exams. “ Dr. Ali Yetisen Faculty of Chemical Engineering
Researchers at Imperial College London and Freiberg University have reviewed the literature on wearable devices, arguing that their potential has become increasingly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They claim that these technologies could build on previous research on wearable devices to detect even asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.
They note that previous studies in this area have shown promising data but have been limited for several reasons. They were unable to differentiate between COVID-19 and other similar viral infections, and the data likely showed a bias as smartwatches are generally more accessible to higher-income communities. There was also a need for large amounts of data in order to perform an accurate analysis, which would make the diagnosis of new pathogens difficult.
In their article, researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Freiburg suggested that the use of a device network could significantly increase the use of wearable devices to detect COVID-19.
“The use of intelligent face masks could enable us to continuously access medically relevant physiological data in a non-invasive manner.” Dr. Firat Güder Department of Bioengineering
There is a wide range of new low-cost wearables that measure various physical quantities that are currently under development. This includes clothing that can recognize when certain molecules or “biomarkers” are present in sweat. Face masks that can analyze breath and detect airborne diseases; and contact lenses that can measure fluid pressure in the eye.
Using multiple of these devices at the same time would help create a clearer picture of a patient’s health without the need for large amounts of data.
Dr. Ali Yetisen from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London said: “By using a combination of different wearable devices, we were able to collect data on various patient signals such as movement, respiratory rate or the concentration of biomarkers in sweat. These could be used for pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic diagnosis, monitoring the health status of COVID-19 patients, or evaluating treatments. “
Smart face masks in particular would be very useful for detecting COVID-19. Face masks have already become a part of our everyday lives, so encouraging large numbers of people to wear them would not be a challenge.
Dr. Firat Güder of the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London said: “The use of intelligent face masks could allow us to continuously access medically relevant physiological data in a non-invasive manner. In the past, this data was only available if a patient had been examined by health professionals in a clinic. “
The face masks could also monitor the air around the wearer and possibly even alert them to the presence of harmful molecules in the air. Spyras LTD, a start-up from the laboratory of Dr. Güder, is already in the final stages of releasing his intelligent face mask for analyzing breathing in real time.
Wearables of the future
This research doesn’t stop at COVID-19. Working with researchers from the University of California Davis, Dr. Ali Yetisen developed tattoos that change color in the presence of certain biomarkers. These tattoos could keep a diabetic person updated on the levels of glucose in their blood or tell a person with a hormonal or metabolic disorder whether their body’s pH has changed.
Researchers have developed tattoos that change color when there is a certain amount of glucose or albumin in the blood, or when the pH of the blood changes to a certain level. (Source: Dr. Ali Kemal Yetisen)
This is just one example of an exciting new wearable device. There are a seemingly infinite number of applications for wearable technology in medicine that could really change the way we evaluate and treat our health.
Dr. Yetisen stated, “The main advantage of wearables is that they can capture real-time information. This could change the way we collect medical data by measuring trends and abrupt metabolic changes between exams. “
As these devices get smaller and cheaper, they become more accessible to the average person. It can’t be long before we can all monitor every aspect of our health through our clothes, tattoos, and face masks.
“Wearable Devices for the Detection of COVID-19” by Ates, HC, Yetisen, AK, Güder, F. et al., Published January 25, 2021 in Nature Electronics.