Student Newswire of The University of Arizona School of Journalism

Arizona Sonoran News

Arizona Sonoran News

Student Newswire of The University of Arizona School of Journalism

Arizona Sonoran News

    iCAMP Researchers Develop Medical Gadgets

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    University of Arizona engineers and doctors are teaming up to create some of the world’s most innovative medical gadgets.

    Researchers develop intelligent wireless textiles into body-worn sensors that track diabetic ulcer formation, knee osteoarthritis, back pain, risk of stroke and elderly falls, while providing doctors vital feedback.

    “The world is our lab,” says Dr. Bijan Najafi, Director of the UA Interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance (iCAMP).

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    iCAMP is one of the only research and development collaborations that brings together professionals from all academic departments to develop practical interventions for medical needs. Researchers also include about 15 undergraduate students who are being taught the importance of innovation and marketing intellectual property.

    “We are working with young people and telling them that they can be the next Mark Zuckerberg for the health care system. Don’t just think for yourself, translate it to society to make a difference,” says Najafi.

    The mix of professionals and undergraduates work together to develop gadgets that also will have good market potential, but serve a valuable purpose for the health care sector.

    “Intelligent textiles monitor your life. We’re interested in the way you move throughout the world,” says Armstrong.

    “Like home security systems for the body.”

    The UA is one of the only land-grant schools in the country that gives engineers primary academic appointments in medical departments. The experts at iCAMP say that since medicine is ultra conservative, change takes awhile to catch fire, but the UA is at the forefront of innovative research.

    The researchers believe a new social contract will have to happen between patient and provider that waives some privacy rights.

    For example, researchers have created sensor-embedded carpet that measures the homeowner’s risk of falling.  The intelligent carpet can sense unbalanced gait or unusual foot angles and then send a text message with that information to the patient’s phone.

    That information is vital not only to the patient, but to their primary care doctor and the 9-11 operator. Patients will have to check “yes” to the iTunes-like user agreement to transmit the vital information to the appropriate sources, says Armstrong.

    The CDC estimates about one in three adults over age 65 fall each year, but less than half talk to their health care provider about the incident. Falls are the leading cause of injury death, nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma and account for more than $30 billion in direct medical costs.

    As the baby boomers continue to age, there will be more of a need for these types of innovations says Armstrong. The U.S. life expectancy has been steadily increasing over the decade and is currently at 78.7 years. The market is already showing signs of new gadgets that measure different facets of health for aging populations.

    “This merger of consumer electronics with medical gadgets will continue to get even more major,” he says.

    Tech and gadget companies are jumping on the medical bandwagon. JawBone, which creates compact, portable stereo systems launched “Up” in 2011, a rubber wristband that monitors everyday activities.

    The device costs about $130 and tracks sleep cycles, physical activity and meals then provides the user the information graphically. It points out trends in daily activities and highlights health behavior patterns that some might never have realized, the product description says.

    Money is pouring into the creation of mobile health applications. A large Philadelphia-based company called DreamIt Health, announced that it will award $50,000 for its partner companies participate in a boot camp to keep them up to speed with the growing industry.

    DreamIt Health created numerous mobile health applications, similar to iCAMP’s vision of combining engineering with emerging medical needs.

    One of their projects, Biomeme, is an application for epidemiologists to better track infection diseases using smart phones. Grand Round Table is a new application that allows health care professionals search a database of cases to compare symptoms of patients. They predict this will reduce many unnecessary tests, save money and ultimately lead doctors to a more efficient diagnosis.

    There are now fitness gadgets on the market that can track heart rate, blood pressure and even perspiration levels during workouts. The gadgets come in bright colors and sleek designs. Fitness applications for cell phones are on the rise, with more than 50 named as the hottest start-ups of the year by TechCrunch.

    Melanie Hingle, assistant professor in the UA Department of Nutritional Sciences, calls the use of applying mobile technologies to encourage healthy lifestyles “mHealth,” which stands for “mobile health.”

    Her research focuses on interventions that hope to alter unhealthy behaviors among middle school and high school students using text messages.

    “We have grants funded by the USDA, National Institutes of Medicine and the FDA to study text messages and their effectiveness,” says Hingle.

    The most recent UA study, in conjunction with the Arizona Cancer Center, sent students sun safety messages. A few texts were sent a day to encourage proper sunscreen use and to follow the shadow rule, which reminds students to stay in the shade during peak sunlight hours. The next step will be to determine the best way to measure which health behaviors were actually changed due to the text messages.

    There is a family of mobile health here, explains Armstrong. The use of intelligent textiles, mobile technologies and hot gadgets are the next big thing, he says.

    Armstrong and Najafi were recently awarded more than $2 million in grants to study the use of SmartSox, socks with wearable sensors that measure pressure, temperature and joint angle to alert doctors at early signs of foot ulcer development.

    “Change is being forced upon medicine and we can either demote it or see the difference these things can make,” says Armstrong.




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