June 15, 2020

Stick-on medical device, worn on the neck, streams COVID-19 symptom data to docs

[Chicago Tribune]

A device originally designed by Northwestern University engineers to record progress in stroke patients has been repurposed to study the effects of COVID-19 as it runs its course through the human body, university officials said.

The device, which looks like a thick, rubbery Band-Aid and attaches to the neck with adhesive, collects around-the-clock data on coughs, temperature and breathing, said John Rogers, the biomedical engineering professor leading the project in partnership with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, where patients have been participating in a trial that started two and a half weeks ago. So far, scientists have collected about 3,000 hours of data from roughly two dozen COVID-19 patients.

Northwestern University scientist John Rogers in his lab located on the campus at Northwestern University Technological Institute in Evanston, Feb. 28, 2019. 
(Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

The devices also can be used on health care providers to monitor their bodies for symptoms of COVID-19, providing a more exact early warning system for infection, Rogers said.

Northwestern announced a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to further the research. The money will fund work to add a blood oxygenation sensor to the devices and to develop better data analytics that would make the information collected more user-friendly for doctors, Rogers said. Some of the work is being coordinated with computer scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The devices are Bluetooth-enabled and upload the data they collect to a tablet computer.

The devices could lessen the stress on the health care system, both by allowing for precise monitoring of some patients remotely and by helping identify infected doctors and nurses earlier, Rogers said.

“Our device addresses a key issue in the COVID-19 pandemic: the limited capacity of health care systems,” Rogers said. “By continuously monitoring high-risk individuals, such as health care workers and the elderly, we can minimize the number of unnecessary hospital visits and provide an early warning to enable preventive measures.”

Already in use at Shirley Ryan, the devices will also be used at Northwestern Memorial Hospital soon, he said, and later at other facilities.

Rogers’ research group has also worked on similar devices to monitor and treat premature infants in neonatal intensive care units.

A wireless electrocardiogram monitor is demonstrated and attached on the chest of Genesis, 8 weeks, in the neonatal intensive care unit at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago on Feb. 14, 2019. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune)

The technology was originally developed by Rogers’ group of engineers, along with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, to monitor the progress in recovery of speech, breathing and swallowing abilities among people who had suffered strokes, he said. More than 100 stroke patients have been using the devices before Rogers was asked to adapt the technology to measure COVID-19 symptoms.

Given supply chain hurdles caused by the pandemic, the engineers are still making the devices themselves. Once they can be mass-produced in factories, Rogers said they would likely cost between $10 and $20 each.

Rogers said his team is currently working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to use the devices to battle COVID-19 in Zambia, Kenya and Ghana.


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