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Using Wearable Sensor Technologies to Secure Research Funding

Thursday, December 29, 2016   • Posted by Erika Vázquez

Achieving sustainable funding for academic and clinical research can be particularly challenging when introducing new disruptive approaches to disease management and prevention. 

Emerging classes of wearable technologies and telehealth systems have recently been deployed in clinical studies (The American Journal of Psychiatry, Health Affairs (1), Health Affairs (2), Telemed J E Health, Pediatric Annals), and have demonstrated the potential to redefine our understanding of disease management in the hospital, and ultimately, home environment

Here are four reasons that applying emerging wearable technologies and biosensing systems to your research will lead to funding, advancing the goal of building a strong foundation for digital medicine in the 21st century.  

1. Biosensing systems drive new insights into clinical and academic research.

Wearable technologies and biosensing systems can help drive the convergence of novel sensing modalities (i.e. ECG, EMG, EEG, linear/angular motion, temperature, blood pressure). These data streams are rarely captured simultaneously, and can therefore lead to new insights into the progression of disease.

Incorporating multiple sensing modalities for use in the clinic and in the home has the potential to shape telemedicine and remote care management, and will soon lead to new publications in both clinical and technologically focused journals. 

2. Individualized, continuous data holds the key to precision medicine delivery.

Wearable technologies have the potential to provide continuous data streams to enable tuning of patient care management on a day to day, week to week, and month to month basis. For example, in neurological disorders, including stroke and Parkinson’s disease, the existing method for tracking motor symptoms is based on population driven standards. No two patients exhibit the same set of phenotypes, and as a result, therapeutic interventions often times miss the mark due to a lack of insight into the specific individual. Wearable biosensors have the potential to bridge this gap by providing a more continuous window into the life of the individual patient outside of the hospital environment. 

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3. Wearable sensor technologies provide high fidelity clinical data in the home for researchers.

Newer sensors and devices on the market are designed with wearability and discreteness in mind. They are also beginning to capture, with high signal fidelity, the more challenging physiological parameters like EMG and motion.

The clinical standards of care for EMG and motion capture tend to be bulky, heavy, and not applicable for in home use. As a result, the physiological data sets are often times limited to prescribed activities collected in the clinic. By incorporating sensor technology built on novel form factors in academic and clinical research studies, researchers are now beginning to achieve levels of ecological validity that were not previously possible.

4. Newer sensor technologies are becoming cheaper and more reachable than conventional monitoring tools.

New wearable technologies have leveraged the miniaturization advances made in microelectronics, and are now beginning to show radical improvements in the cost curve compared to existing standards of care.  When compared to gold standard instruments and conventional physiological data capture tools that are in clinical use today, we are beginning to see cost advantages with significantly more physiological data output across multiple sensing modalities. Motion capture systems, inertial sensors, strain gauges, ECG, and EMG sensors are typically independent channels coupled with wires to an expensive desktop station (i.e. polysomnography systems). The ability to employ a single wireless device that incorporates all of these sensing modalities holds enormous promise for overall cost reduction, while significantly increasing physiological data output.

More and more digital medicine and telehealth research studies are now being published by leading clinical and research institutions (Science, International Journal of Medical Informatics, Rock Healthusing emerging wearable devices and mobile technologies.Many top tier institutions have committed significant resources to programs (Stanford’s Wearable Health LabUSC’s Center for Body Computing) that are driving academic research in wearable technologies.

Federal and private funding agenciesas well as newly formed digital health focused publicationshave begun to take notice of these trends, and as a result, we anticipate to see tremendous growth in digital medicine.