By Emily Dieckman, College of Engineering

July 8, 2021

A cross-institutional team led by the University of Arizona is building a future in which wearable devices allow clinicians to remotely collect patient information and provide “on-site care” so patients do not have to leave their homes.

Over the past two decades, more and more people have chosen to use wearable technologies like Fitbits and Apple Watches to monitor their health. The wearable technology market is valued at $ 116.2 billion and is expected to reach $ 265.4 billion by 2026. Some portable devices not only collect information such as calories burned and steps taken, but also heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep patterns. These data points are continuously collected from users, but since they have not been validated at the clinical level, the data are not necessarily usable for healthcare professionals.

Janet Roveda
Janet Roveda

A cross-institutional team led by the University of Arizona Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor and BIO5 institute member Janet Roveda is building a future in which handheld devices will enable clinicians to remotely collect patient data and provide “on-site care” so patients do not have to leave their homes. The team founded the Healthcare Streaming Center in Place, or C2SHIP, which was first selected as the National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center (IUCR) in 2018 and received $ 15,000 in entry fees.

C2SHIP recently received an NSF rolling grant of $ 3 million with $ 1.125 million earmarked for United States.

“So many people cannot imagine life without wearable technology, and these types of devices have tremendous potential to improve healthcare,” said the President of the University of Arizona Robert C. Robbins, MD “Our researchers are leading the effort to maximize the performance of these technologies. This important work is in line with the university’s continued focus on the fourth industrial revolution, marked by the increasing convergence of the digital, physical and biological worlds.”

Some clinics, Roveda said, are already working to provide health care. She cited the example of her father who wore a high-end blood pressure cuff for a few months after receiving a new drug for heart disease.

“They wanted to make sure the new drug was regulating his blood pressure, so the device kept sending data to the clinic,” she said. “There were a few days when he didn’t want to wear it and he got a call from the doctor who was checking on him. I see great potential in such a device. Our vision is that one day you can … CVS and take not just a drug, but a home care tool to collect data on your health. “

Put your heads together

Other partner institutions of the center are the Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Southern California and the California Institute of Technology. Co-investigators at the University of Arizona include Ao Li, Scientific assistant professor for electrical engineering and information technology; Kathie Melde, Assistant Dean of Faculty Affairs and Inclusion for the College of Engineering; and Hao Xin, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“Dr. Roveda spent years cultivating relationships with the faculties of the University of Arizona Medical School,” said Melde, assistant dean of faculty affairs and inclusion at the College of Engineering. “Dr. Roveda’s main area of ​​research was digital circuit design, but she has transformed her research into new areas encompassing overarching solutions that include electrical engineering, biomedical engineering and healthcare technologies.”

Each of the core partners has built relationships with companies ranging from startups to tech giants in hopes of building bridges between science and industry. They also intend to invite more college partners and recruit students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. They believe that a wide range of voices will be crucial as they develop technologies that are specifically suited to different populations.

The right place (home) at the right time (now)

“The C2SHIP IUCRC is a perfect example of research bridging multiple engineering disciplines and into medicine to address important societal challenges,” said Mark Van Dyke, Deputy Dean of Research at the University of Technology. “Digital health and the Internet of Things are important parts of our strategic plan, and the award of this project speaks volumes about the critical mass that we have already developed.”

COVID-19 temporarily blocked the center’s progress as the 2020 funding pool from the IUCRC program was diverted to explicitly pandemic-related projects. But COVID-19 also made it clearer than ever that care can make a big difference, especially for medically fragile patients who were advised not to keep personal appointments during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has disrupted best practices for preventing disease-related complications. In response, many healthcare providers are redesigning their ways of promoting local care, ”said Dr. Bijan Najafi, co-director of C2SHIP, of the Baylor College of. of the center heads the medical site and is also professor at the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery in Baylor and Director of Clinical Research in the Department of Vascular Surgery. “On-site care is an increasingly important issue in health care and is becoming the foreground of governance practices to decentralize care and reduce differences in care, especially for people who do not live in urban areas or in disadvantaged postcode areas.”

The project includes many parts, including the development and validation of devices that can efficiently collect information and ensure the privacy of patient data. Each university partner has its own specialist areas. For example, David G. Armstrong, director of the center’s USC site, brings knowledge related to diabetes, limb preservation, human movement, and wearable technology; Najafi’s specialty is endovascular health; and Roveda’s background is in data-centric systems and reliable circuitry.

“At Caltech, we will be device-centric, focusing on new wearable or implantable sensor technologies and artificial intelligence tools for data analysis and visualization,” said Chiara Daraio, director of the centre’s Caltech site and G. Bradford Jones Professor of Mechanical at the University of Engineering and Applied Physics.

The team is moving into remote care with greater commitment than ever before.

“The proposal brings together quite a bit of potential research and industrial firepower to focus on an area that may no longer be ready for innovation,” said Armstrong, professor of surgery and director of the Southwestern Academic Limb Salvage Alliance at USC. “We really have the potential to develop some of the basic fundamentals of how we bring consumer electronics and medical devices together, paying it forward.”