News Feature | February 27, 2015

Researchers Developing Devices To Monitor Chronic Conditions

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Healthcare IT News

Part of the University of Michigan Third Century Initiative, these ‘gadgets’ help deep monitoring.

As part of an initiative to improve health monitoring and health outcomes, researchers at the University of Michigan are developing small devices with new technologies for patients to monitor their chronic conditions, particularly the elderly and those in underserved populations, according to a press release.

The Deep Monitoring Project is a global initiative established to explore the challenges of deploying, using, and assessing sensor technologies for deep monitoring in chronic disease. The initial technologies will be used to monitor three major health challenges of adult diabetics: diabetic eye disease and blindness; nerve disease resulting in lower-extremity amputation; and end-stage kidney disease.

Technologies either already developed or in development include: wireless temperature and sound sensors; wireless aqueous chemistry (urine) detectors; quantitative 3-D eye-imaging and recording systems; and interactive personal health interfaces for the elderly. These devices are relatively inexpensive to produce, most ranging from $5 to $40 dollars, but could provide information that would prove to be invaluable in the treatment of diabetic-related conditions.

Head of the Project Team Professor David Burke explains the potential significance of their work, stating: “I'd like to see every doctor's office with a basket of temperature-monitoring devices instead of pens that they hand out to patients and say, ‘Here these are free. Take three, one for your upstairs and downstairs bathrooms, and one for your glove compartment.’”

The Deep Monitoring Project has received $1.4 million – a second infusion of funding from the U-M Third Century Initiative, which will be used to target low-resource locations in Michigan, Ghana, and rural Jamaica. The goal of the initiative is to allow patients to send important, trusted data to a physician that can help monitor a health condition without the need for face-to-face interaction.

“The challenge is developing devices that are easy to use so patients of all skill levels will use them and have the data be high enough quality that the medical professionals will trust them,” said Mark Burns, the T. C. Chang Professor of Engineering, chair and professor of the Department of Chemical Engineering.

The Global Challenges for a Third Century grant program seeks to inspire ideas about how to tackle some of the world's greatest problems. The grants come from a $50 million fund dedicated to transforming teaching and scholarship, as U-M approaches its bicentennial in 2017 and plans for the university's third century.