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Wearables detect infections before they happen

Futuristic unrecognizable woman holding smartwatch on a cosmic background


Using wearables can inform people when they are getting ill allowing them to take early action in minimising the impact, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

A persons heart rate, skin temperature, activity and over variables can be monitored by wearable sensors, providing vital information on what is going on inside them, including the onset of infection, inflammation and even insulin resistance.

Key to this ongoing study is the establishment of a normal baseline for each individual.

“We want to study people at an individual level,” said Michael Snyder, PhD, professor and chair of genetics.
The work is an example of Stanford Medicine’s focus on precision health, whose goal is to anticipate and prevent disease in the healthy and to precisely diagnose and treat disease in the ill.

Snyder is the senior author of the study, which was published online last week, in PLOS Biology.

He was one of the 60 participants in the digital health study and was impressed that wearable biosensors diagnosed he had Lyme disease, before he even knew he was sick. The seven senors he was wearing on a flight to Norway detected changes in his heart rate and blood oxygen levels outwith the normal range.
“Wearables helped make the initial diagnosis,” Snyder said.

“The fact that you can pick up infections by monitoring before they happen is very provocative,” Eric Topol, MD, professor of genomics at the Scripps Research Institute added.

The Stanford study has demonstrated: “given a baseline range of values for each person, it is possible to monitor deviations from normal and associate those deviations with environmental conditions, illness or other factors that affect health. Distinctive patterns of deviation from normal seem to correlate with particular health problems. Algorithms designed to pick up on these patterns of change could potentially contribute to clinical diagnostics and research”.

Biomedical researchers envisage a future in which human health is monitored continuously.

“We have more sensors on our cars than we have on human beings,” said Snyder. He believes this will be reversed with humans wearing more sensors than cars.

“Already, consumers have purchased millions of wearable devices, including more than 50 million smart watches and 20 million other fitness monitors. Most monitors are used to track activity, but they could easily be adjusted to more directly track health measures, Snyder said.

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