In a new study, 60 people wore devices that collected more than
250,000 measurements a day on things like heart rate, oxygen in the
blood, activity levels, calories expended, sleep patterns and skin
After researchers got a baseline idea of normal readings for each
person in the study, they looked for deviations from these typical
patterns to see whether changes might be tied to new environmental
conditions, illness, or other factors that can impact health.
The goal is a health dashboard that does for people what dashboards
already do for cars, said senior study author Dr. Michael Snyder,
director of the Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine at
Stanford University in California.
"Your car has 400 sensors, and dashboard lights go on when a problem
occurs like the engine starts overheating or you are nearly running
out of gas," Snyder said by email.
"In the future, you will have multiple sensors relaying information
to your smartphone, which will become your health dashboard," Snyder
added. "Alerts will go off with elevated heart rate over your normal
level and heart beat abnormalities will be detected - these will
enable early detection of disease, perhaps even before you can
detect it yourself."
Altogether, Snyder and colleagues collected almost 2 billion
measurements from the study participants, who each wore between one
and seven commercially available activity monitors around the clock.
Snyder was one of the participants.
On a long flight for a family vacation last year, he noticed changes
in his heart rate and oxygen levels. From previous trips with
sensors, he knew his oxygen levels normally dropped during flights
and his heart rate increased at the start of the flight but then
returned to normal.
On this particular flight, however, his numbers didn't return to
normal, and Snyder then went on to develop a fever and other signs
He had a hunch that it might be Lyme disease because he'd spent time
outdoors in rural Massachusetts two weeks earlier and might have
been bitten by a tick that transmitted the illness. He convinced a
doctor to prescribe an antibiotic, then got tests results that
confirmed a Lyme diagnosis.
For a few other participants, higher than normal readings for heart
rate and skin temperature also turned out to signal a developing
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A few successful predictions donít mean the idea is ready for prime
time, however. More research is needed before the snapshots of
illness detection in the study might translate into gadgets people
can purchase and use on their own. One device tested was recalled,
and another didn't appear to work well, the authors note.
Just because people can monitor some vital signs right now on their
smartphone or fitness tracker doesn't mean they can diagnose
themselves without help from a doctor, noted Satchidananda Panda of
the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California.
"Many health enthusiasts will like this idea and will use the
gadgets judiciously," Panda, who wasn't involved in the study, added
by email. "However, the danger lies in the vast majority of lay
users who misinterpret the data."
Because most patients only get vital signs checked at a physical or
an appointment when they're sick or something goes wrong, though,
wearable sensors might help doctors do a better job of detecting the
onset of disease and monitoring its progression, said Dr. Karandeep
Singh, a medical researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann
Arbor who wasn't involved in the study.
"Physiological changes precede the development of symptoms for a
variety of illnesses, and being able to detect these changes early
may bring patients to attention much earlier when diseases are more
readily treatable and potentially curable," Singh said by email.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2j5mxKQ PLOS Biology, online January 12, 2017.
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