Your smart watch may not only measure your steps and physiological parameters, but also help detect your risk for diseases such as cold and diabetes early, a new Stanford study has found.
By following 60 people through their everyday lives, researchers at Stanford University in the US found that smart watches and other personal biosensor devices can help flag when people have colds and even signal the onset of complex conditions like Lyme disease and diabetes.
“We want to tell when people are healthy and also catch illnesses at their earliest stages,” said Michael Snyder, Professor at Stanford and senior author of the study. Smart watches and similar portable devices are commonly used for measuring steps and physiological parameters, but have not generally been used to detect illness.
Snyder’s team took advantage of the portability and ease of using wearable devices to collect a myriad of measurements from participants for up to two years to detect deviations from their normal baseline for measurements such as heart rate and skin temperature.
Because the devices continuously follow these measures, they potentially provide rapid means to detect the onset of diseases that change your physiology. Many of these deviations coincided with times when people became ill. Heart rate and skin temperature tends to rise when people become ill, said Snyder.
His team developed a software programme for data from a smart watch called ‘Change of Heart’ to detect these deviations and sense when people are becoming sick. The devices were able to detect common colds and in one case helped detect Lyme disease – in Snyder, who participated in the study.
“I had elevated heart rate and decreased oxygen at the start of my vacation and knew something was not quite right,” said Snyder. After running a low-grade fever for several days, Snyder visited a physician who confirmed the illness.
Subsequent tests confirmed the presence of Lyme. The smart watch and an oxygen sensor were useful in detecting the earliest signs of illness. The study paves the way for the smart phone to serve as a health dashboard, monitoring health and sensing early signs of illness, likely even before the person wearing it does.
Individuals with indications of insulin resistance and who are therefore are at high risk for Type 2 diabetes are often unaware that they have this risk factor, researchers said. Personal biosensors could potentially be developed into a simple test for those at risk for Type 2 diabetes by detecting variations in heart rate patterns, which tend to differ from those not at risk, they said.
The researchers found that blood oxygenation decreases during airplane flights. Although this is a known effect, they were able to characterise it in greater detail than has been previously reported.
The study was published in the journal PLOS Biology.