DARPA-funded study suggests MIT-LL spin-off's wearable may have COVID applications

DARPA-funded study suggests MIT-LL spin-off's wearable may have COVID applications

September 30, 2021

A wearable device made by an MIT Lincoln Laboratory (MIT-LL) spin-off company, which can detect the flu and the common cold in asymptomatic patients, could have implications for early detection of COVID-19 and other viruses, according to the authors of a small study that was funded in part by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Researchers from Duke University and colleagues assessed the efficacy of the E4 wristband wearable device, manufactured by MIT-LL spin-off Empatica Inc., in 31 patients who were inoculated with a flu virus and 18 who were inoculated with a human rhinovirus (which causes the common cold). Participants wore the sensor wristband for four days before and five days after inoculation.

Using only data from the wearable devices, the researchers could tell the difference between those infected and those not infected with up to 92% accuracy for H1N1 and 88% for the cold virus. The data could also distinguish between mild and moderate infection a day before symptoms started with 90% accuracy for H1N1 and 89% for the cold virus. The findings were published September 29 by JAMA Network Open.

"One of our goals was to be able to detect that infection before a person feels symptoms, because they may be spreading pathogens without even knowing that they're sick," explained senior researcher Jessilyn Dunn, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

The wristband does this by reading biological signs, including resting heart rate, heart rate variability and skin temperature, she said.

"The device detects illness and that your body is fighting something," Dunn said. "We're still working on trying to improve the distinction between different types of infections."

Having this information can help patients by alerting them to contact their doctor, she noted. This, in turn, can help in planning how best to use limited resources in a time of crisis like the coronavirus pandemic.

"One of the ways that we think about it is for COVID-19. If we could actually predict who is going to be sick, and when, and how sick that person is going to be and what kind of care resources will they need, we could actually do a more intelligent triage and allocation of resources. So it gives us sort of a lens into the future," she said.

Dunn foresees a future where everyone is wearing a smartwatch.

"In that future, where everybody does have a smartwatch, this would just be something that would be going on in the background. It would be a passive monitoring system, and that would give us an idea of who's likely to be sick and how sick they're likely to become," she explained.

Read more: https://www.upi.com/Science_News/2021/09/30/smartwatches-detect-viral-in...

Read the study: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2784555?res...