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Wearable Technology: Devices That Help People Know When They’re Sick

Update Date: Jan 16, 2017 12:28 AM EST

There are currently more than 20 million smart watches and more than 50 million fitness trackers sold in the market. This rise of wearable technology is just the beginning for more advanced wearables in the future. Scientists are seeing the potential of these wearables for health monitoring and they could one day help people know when they're sick even if they don't feel sick just yet.

Doctor Michael Snyder and his team of researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine are using wearable devices to track and monitor health in people. By the use of these wearables, the researchers want to personalize health monitoring and diagnosis in people by establishing their respective baselines or the normal values that indicate good health.

Through constant monitoring and analysis from wearables, deviations from the baselines that indicate some kind of illness in the body can be seen. Prevention or possible the cure for the upcoming illness can be provided before it becomes worse.

This kind of work is an example of Stanford Medicine's focus on precision health, with the goal of anticipating and preventing sickness, and diagnosing and treating illnesses more precisely. The study by Dr. Snyder and his team is published in the journal PLOS Biology.

Dr. Snyder's team collected around two billion measurements from sixty people from their respective wearable biosensor devices. The continuous monitoring of the participants and its corresponding data were correlated with laboratory tests and other health measures. Participants wore from one to eight commercially available biosensors that measured and monitored their activities throughout the day.

The team collected data on weight, heart rate, blood oxygen, and skin temperature. Activities such as walking, running, biking, and steps were also monitored. The team also calculated the number of calories burned during activities, acceleration, and exposure to gamma and X-rays.

Information also revealed the correlation of heart rate and skin temperature to increased levels of C-reactive protein in blood tests. These C-reactive proteins indicate a possible anomaly in a person's immune system particularly as a marker for infection, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease even cancer.

An algorithm that analyzed data collected from the participant's daily steps, daytime heart rate and the difference between daytime and nighttime heart rate was able to predict and identify participants in the study who are insulin-resistant. In addition, the study also found that during long flights, the low levels of oxygen in the blood is indicative of fatigue.

The researchers see a future where all people have wearable devices that constantly monitor for their health. The constant monitoring and automatic analysis would help in informing users about an impending sickness and respective treatments to prevent or cure the sickness can be appropriated.

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