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Wearable Devices That Tell You When You’re Getting Sick

You’re probably used to having your blood pressure and temperature taken when you go to the doctor for a checkup. But a new study may foretell a future in which these and other measures of your health are monitored continuously.

Using commercially available biosensors and activity monitors, along with periodic blood tests, School of Medicine researchers collected data from study participants, establishing individual baseline measures of biological markers such as heart rate, skin temperature and blood oxygen levels. Next, participants wore monitors that collected data on these measures as well as sleep, activity levels and more. Deviations in the data from the normal baseline were found to correlate with the onset of infection, inflammation and insulin resistance.

Researchers’ vision for the future? A personal health dashboard that uses data from a smart watch or other wearable sensor to alert the user to the onset of illness — making it possible to, say, keep your children home from school if they’re in the earliest stages of an infection, or stay in and eat soup instead of going out dancing if your vital signs indicate you’re getting sick, says the study’s senior author, Michael Snyder, professor and genetics department chair.

Snyder, who was also a study participant, was able to make an early diagnosis of his own case of Lyme disease, thanks in part to data from the sensors he was wearing. “A typical car has around 400 sensors, but a typical person has zero. Instead we rely on our gut to tell us when something’s not right,” says Snyder. “Right now it’s all research, but I can envision a future where these devices are really going to be important for people following their health.” •