Duke researchers working on wearable tech that could help with variety of medical issues

Buckley Report

DURHAM, N.C. (WGHP) — “One in three Americans is pre-diabetic and 90 percent of them don’t know it,” says Jessilyn Dunn.

They will if she has her way.

Dunn is a professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University. She lives in something of a hybrid world – engineering and medicine, of sorts. She and her team at Duke’s Big Ideas Lab are constantly looking for ways to blend the two so that people can be healthier, in the future.

“You might imagine a future when you could use the sweat you have from walking to your car to the building to test whether you have COVID,” said Dunn, about what kind of wearable devices can be created from the science done in her lab, which is an acronym for Biomedical Infomatics Group Integrating Data Engineering and Analytics.

There are other researchers working on similar projects at Duke, as well. Xiaoyue Ni is creating another wearable that can keep track of a variety of health issues.

“You can think of it as people putting on a digital stethoscope on your body,” Ni said.

In the case of her research, it could do a variety of things but, like what Dunn mentioned, it could help in earlier detection of COVID-19 infections.

“Something like, for example, your coughing intensity and your coughing frequency, over time, and also something like your snoring time and snoring effort that can lead to new detection of early signs of disease or capturing the transition between disease or health status,” Ni said.

Ryan Shaw is also doing research at Duke that provides health data directly to your medical team, almost as if they were right there, with you.

“We are shifting to a more proactive health system and we are becoming less of a reactive system,” Shaw said. “We are coming to you in your everyday lives vs. having to essentially wait on patients to come into clinics.”

They can do things as complex as warning someone when an epileptic seizure is imminent to that thing Dunn mentioned earlier — help with diabetics.

“One device we’re working on can convert the amount of glucose that’s in your interstitial fluid so, the fluid underneath your skin, and it can convert that to an electrical signal that can tell you the amount of glucose in your blood,” Dunn said.

She believes these wearable health trackers will soon be as commonplace as smartphones.

“I think so because they have a lot of functionality that is not just for health and fitness tracking,” Dunn said. “When we think about the newer Apple Watches, they are convenient in that you can get a text on your wrist and it’s hands-free.”

And, soon, vital health data, as well. See more about how they work in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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