Miniature wearable devices developed to constantly monitor health

The devices can spatially map air flow into, through, and out of the lungs, as well as food movements into the intestines, among other things, in a non-invasive way

Yasmin Tinwala

Representative Image / Northwestern University

Researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois, including one of Indian descent, have developed miniature wearable devices to continuously monitor health through body sounds. Unlike a stethoscope, which only listens to the heart and lungs, these new devices can listen to sounds emanating from anywhere in the body.

The device is designed to map the sounds in a non-invasive way, and can be attached to any part of the body. They were tested on 15 premature babies with respiratory and intestinal motility disorders, and 55 adults, including 20 with chronic lung diseases and were found to have performed with clinical-grade accuracy. Think of it as a Dexcom, but without the needle. 

The devices are comprised of digital microphones and accelerometers, and gently adhere to the skin to create a sensing network. They are able to create a spatial map of how air enters, travels through, and exits the lungs; how the heart rate fluctuates between resting and active states; and how food, gas, and fluids travel through the digestive tract. 

“The idea behind these devices is to provide highly accurate, continuous evaluation of patient health and then make clinical decisions in the clinics or when patients are admitted to the hospital or attached to ventilators,” said Dr Ankit Bharat, a thoracic surgeon at Northwestern Medicine. Bharat led the clinical research on adult subjects. 

He added, “A key advantage of this device is to be able to simultaneously listen and compare different regions of the lungs. Simply put, it’s like up to 13 highly trained doctors listening to different regions of the lungs simultaneously with their stethoscopes, and their minds are synced to create a continuous and a dynamic assessment of the lung health that is translated into a movie on a real-life computer screen.”