Scripps, UCSF kick off wearable-driven research projects to spot viral infections early on

Both efforts are employing popular consumer wearables and health trackers to spot potential cases of COVID-19 or other viral diseases as they begin.
By Dave Muoio
04:04 pm
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Two medical research organizations have kicked off new efforts this week that seek to use consumer-health wearables to identify or event predict the onset of disease.

The first is the DETECT (Digital Engagement & Tracking for Early Control & Treatment) Study, headed by the Scripps Research Translational Institute. It combines heart-rate, activity and sleep data collected through a range of devices – such as Fitbits, Apple Watches, Garmins, Oura Rings or any others that can share data with Google Fit or Apple HealthKit – and pairs it with participant-submitted symptom reports.

The organization said that the project aims to not only identify areas with viral outbreaks such as COVID-19 more quickly, but to "develop more individualized approaches to health care" using person-specific vital-sign readings, according to the study's enrollment website.

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The second is the UC San Francisco's TemPredict Study. This effort is inviting Oura Ring users to release their device-collected physiological data and complete daily surveys on their condition. It, too, looks to "identify patterns that could predict onset, progression, and recovery in future cases of COVID-19. If this approach is successful, it could open the door for research into tracking and managing other illnesses and conditions."

WHY IT MATTERS

COVID-19 is continuing to spread throughout the U.S., and the country's insufficient testing capacity has led to major gaps in understanding which regions might be harboring an undetected disease cluster. Although efforts such as these that log individuals' symptoms and vitals are no substitute for comprehensive testing, early identification of suspected cases can help public health officers better focus their resources and cut off COVID-19 hotbeds in the making.

“In light of the ongoing flu season and the global pandemic of COVID-19, we see enormous opportunity to improve disease tracking for improved population health," Jennifer Radin, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Scripps Research Translational Institute who is leading the DETECT Study, said in a statement provided by Fitbit. 

THE LARGER TREND

From telehealth and remote monitoring to chatbots and symptom-checker apps, a wide swath of digital health technologies have found themselves well positioned to lessen the blow of COVID-19. And the efforts from Scripps and UCSF aren't the only device-driven research projects tackling the pandemic. Just last week, Evidation Health pulled back the curtain on an app-based real-world data-collection project that's already at least 100,000 participants strong.

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