Wearable system promises to stem asthma attacks

A new wearable tracking system that monitors heart rate, lung function and environmental factors may soon help asthma sufferers avoid attacks.

The Health and Environmental Tracker (HET), designed by a research team at North Carolina State University, features sensing devices within a wristband, as well as a chest patch for monitoring respiratory rate, movement, blood oxygen levels and wheezing in the lungs.

The system, which will go into pilot testing this summer, also tracks environmental factors including humidity, temperature and volatile organic compounds and ozone. Users breathe into a spirometer several times daily to measure lung function levels.

"Our goal was to design a wearable system that could track the wellness of the subjects and in particular provide the infrastructure to predict asthma attacks, so that the users could take steps to prevent them by changing their activities or environment," Alper Bozkurt, the principal investigator and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State, said, according to an announcement.

The system, as described in a research paper published in the IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics, is the latest mobile health approach aimed at helping the more than 24 million U.S. asthma sufferers.

In May, research revealed mobile phones may soon be as viable as spirometers for monitoring lung function, and could represent a more economical tool for patients. Late last year, scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California announced a $6 million research effort to use smartphones and smartwatches to help young asthma sufferers.

The NC State researchers say the custom-made spirometer provides more accurate data to help patients avoid asthma attacks.

"The uniqueness of this work is not simply the integration of various sensors in wearable form factors," Veena Misra, co-author of the paper and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State, said, according to the announcement. "The impact here is that we have been able to demonstrate power consumption levels that are in the sub-milliwatt levels by using nano-enabled novel sensor technologies. Comparable, existing devices have power consumption levels in the hundreds of milliwatts."

For more information:
- read the paper published at the IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics
- read the NC State announcement