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Sensors could detect diseases before we notice any symptoms
Early identification is necessary for effective treatment of diseases. Researchers have now found that portable sensors may indicate illnesses and health problems in the future, even before we notice them ourselves.
Scientists from the Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine at Stanford University found in an investigation that a portable device could one day be able to detect diseases long before the sick noticed them themselves. This would lead to significantly improved treatment. The doctors published the results of their study in the journal "PLOS Biology".
Portable sensors are already widely used
Nowadays, portable sensors are already used by many people, for example to track our movement habits and sleep patterns. In the future, it may be possible that such portable devices can also predict illnesses and health problems, the experts explain.
Study examines data from 60 subjects
In the current investigation, 60 test subjects wore portable devices, which carried out more than 250,000 measurements per day. These data included, for example, heart rate, oxygen in the blood, activity, calorie consumption, sleep patterns and skin temperature.
Doctors searched for deviations in the measured data
After determining the normal baseline values for each subject, the researchers looked for deviations from these typical patterns. The doctors wanted to determine whether these changes were triggered or influenced by new environmental conditions, diseases or other factors.
Smartphones could help patients read the data
The goal of the research is a kind of overview console for human diseases. For example, a car has over 400 sensors. When the engine begins to overheat or the gasoline is almost empty, lights on the dashboard begin to indicate the problems. It will work similarly in humans in the future. Several sensors on the body could forward the measured information to a smartphone and the smartphone would become our dashboard, explains the author Dr. Michael Snyder from Stanford University in California.
Portable sensors enable early detection of diseases
For example, a signal may sound when an increased heart rate or abnormalities in the heartbeat are detected, the researchers explain. This will enable early detection of diseases, perhaps even before you see the first signs of health problems yourself, adds Snyder.
Study evaluated almost two billion measurements
In total, Dr. Snyder and his colleagues made almost two billion measurements. These came from subjects with between one and seven commercially available activity monitors each. The participants wore these devices around the clock. Dr. Snyder was one of the subjects himself.
Author performs self-test with portable sensors
Thanks to the help of sensors, the author had noticed during a flight last year that he was experiencing changes in his heart rate and oxygen level. From previous flights and travel with sensors attached, the doctor knew that his oxygen level usually decreased during the flights and his heart rate increased at the start of the flight. After that, the value normalized again. However, the values did not return to normal on the flight mentioned. A little later, Dr. Synder then develop a fever and other signs of an illness.
Data from the portable sensors indicate Lyme disease at an early stage
The expert suspected that it could be Lyme disease. The doctor had previously spent a lot of time outside in rural Massachusetts for two weeks. During this period, he may have been the victim of a tick that transmitted the disease. Snyder convinced a doctor to prescribe him an antibiotic. Later he received the test results of his medical examination, which confirmed an existing Lyme disease.
More research is needed
Some participants in the study had higher heart rate and skin temperature values. It later became clear that these signs signaled illness. However, a few successful predictions do not mean that the method is already suitable for the general public. Much more research is needed, the authors say.
Danger of laypeople misinterpreting the data
Just because people can see some vital signs on their smartphone or fitness tracker doesn't mean that they should diagnose themselves without the help of a doctor. The danger is that the vast majority of laypeople could misinterpret the data, the researchers warn. (as)