November 21, 2023
A new wearable device that tracks different sounds in a wearer’s body for continuous health monitoring has achieved successful results in tests.
Designed by researchers from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, the soft, miniaturized device adheres to a patient’s skin and continuously tracks sounds such as heartbeats, air moving through the lungs and even the digestion of food.
Specifically, the team said the device could be instrumental in monitoring the health of premature babies, who are often faced with lung conditions leading to long-term hospitalization.
“During even the most routine visits, physicians listen to sounds inside their patients’ bodies,” the university said in a press release. “These sounds provide valuable information about a person’s health. And when these sounds subtly change or downright stop, it can signal a serious problem that warrants time-sensitive intervention.”
The device’s exterior is made of soft silicone and measures 1.5 inches long, 0.7 inches wide and 0.3 inches thick.
Within this small container, the device contains a flash memory drive, battery, Bluetooth capabilities and two tiny microphones — one facing inward toward the body and another facing outward toward the exterior to distinguish between ambient and internal sounds.
In pilot studies, the team tested the device on 15 premature babies with respiratory and intestinal motility disorders and 55 adults, including 20 with chronic lung diseases.
Results showed the device performed with “clinical-grade accuracy,” and even offered new findings that could be informative for research and clinical care.
“Currently, there are no existing methods for continuously monitoring and spatially mapping body sounds at home or in hospital settings,” said John A. Rogers, who led the device development. “We set out to develop a new strategy for monitoring patients in real-time on a continuous basis and without encumbrances associated with rigid, wired, bulky technology.”
“As physicians, we often don’t understand how a specific region of the lungs is functioning,” said Dr. Ankit Bharat, who led the clinical research in the adult subjects. “With these wireless sensors, we can capture different regions of the lungs and assess their specific performance and each region’s performance relative to one another … Simply put, it’s like up to 13 highly trained doctors listening to different regions of the lungs simultaneously with their stethoscopes.”
A study on the team’s findings was published in the journal Nature Medicine.
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