London - Could wearing a vest save your life? It may sound a preposterous idea, but scientists across the globe are working on a range of clothes to monitor patients’ health — and even treat them.
Over the past decade, extensive research has been carried out on the development of wearable medical sensors that can be embedded in everyday clothing. The thinking is that such devices will lead to quicker diagnosis and improve monitoring of at-risk patients, without interfering with their everyday life. From electronic vests to bras, we reveal the “smart” clothes that could be making their way into your wardrobe.
Swiss researchers have developed a string vest designed to correct poor posture and tackle back pain.
The technology, which has been in development at the University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland, uses sensors to detect the patient’s posture.
The patient wears the vest for 24 hours — physiotherapists and doctors then assess the data gathered to calculate the postures that can lead to pain and damage in the patient’s neck, back or shoulders.
The vest is then programmed to watch out for these potentially harmful postures. The sensors detect these and vibrate so that the wearer knows to change position. It could be available within two years.
While incontinence pads can be highly effective, they can wick away the moisture so well the wearer is unaware of leakage.
The new smart pants contain electro-conductive thread which sends a signal to an electronic sensor when it is exposed to fluid. The sensor then vibrates gently to alert the wearer.
A study at Bristol Urological Institute shows that on 91 percent of occasions wearers were alerted by the sensor, and in 71 percent of cases it gave them sufficient time to change their pad. “This is a great breakthrough for incontinence sufferers,” says Professor Raj Persad, consultant urologist and senior clinical lecturer at Bristol University.
“Apart from the stresses of dealing with the symptoms of incontinence, sufferers are at risk of social isolation and depression. This device helps restore dignity.”
Devices such as this could be available within a year.
Last month US researchers announced they’d developed a “bra” that contains embedded sensors to spot temperature changes linked to cancer.
Tumours need a blood supply to expand, and this blood causes heat changes in tissue.
Some studies have shown that cancer cells exude nitric oxide, which triggers changes in blood flow and temperature in tissue surrounding cancer, which can be detected by the sensors. The device is expected to launch in Europe next year, but experts are cautious.
Emma Smith, senior science officer at Cancer Research UK says: “There’s no evidence to show whether this bra is a reliable way to detect tumours.”
This device, which resembles a thin life vest and is worn under clothes, delivers a shock to the chest if the heart falls into a life-threatening abnormal rhythm.
Thousands of patients in Britain suffer from abnormal heart rhythms, and require a mini defibrillator to be implanted into their chest.
However, while they are waiting for one to be fitted, or their old one to be changed, they have to remain in hospital.
Doctors have developed a vest that a patient wears under their clothes, which delivers a shock if their heart goes into an abnormal rhythm. If a life-threatening rhythm is detected, the device alerts the patient before delivering an electric shock.
Christopher Morley, consultant cardiologist at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, says: “This vest can be a useful bridge to implantation of a defibrillator pacemaker or renewal in one that is failing, or where the battery has abruptly depleted.
“This enables the patient to be at home, rather than in hospital, while they wait for the procedure.”
Worn around the neck like a necklace, the tiny camera has software to automatically take images every 30 seconds and is designed for people with memory problems or dementia, to help them recall the events of the day.
Brain-scanning tests have shown that simply viewing these images activates nerve cells in areas of the brain responsible for memory, which leads to long-term improvements in memory and recall.
Steve Hodges, who led the research at Cambridge University, says: “It suggests that stimulating these brain regions through the use of the camera may lead to improved memory and cognition in both healthy and memory-damaged patients.”
The camera is on sale for around £300 at viconrevue.com
This shirt has embedded sensors around the chest to measure lung function, respiration and heart rates. It then transmits this data wirelessly to doctors.
The US developers say it could be useful to monitor those with a heart or lung condition, and it was used by the British cycling team to investigate why so many of their athletes suffer with coughs when training.
‘We could track the physiological data of our riders, providing us with greater insight into the plausible causes of cough,’ says Andrea Wooles, a sports scientist at British Cycling.
It has also been used in a study with GlaxoSmithKline, which found that the LifeShirt measured cough severity with 99 per cent accuracy when compared with video analysis, the current gold standard for cough measurement.
A high-tech sensor you wear clipped on a belt may be able to predict when a person might fall, sometimes days in advance.
The wireless sensor analyses normal posture and gait, and sends an alert when there is a break in routine.
Researchers at Texas University, who have been developing the technology, say it could benefit older people who are prone to falls, as well as patients with balance problems from Parkinson’s or inner ear disorders such as vertigo.
Doctors use the sensor to monitor a patient’s movements over a number of days. This allows them to build up a database of normal movements. They then use this to programme the device to detect any unusual movements that suggest a person is about to fall.
If a fall is imminent, the device produces an alarm or vibrates, telling the wearer to grab hold of something, or exert caution.
The developers say the sensor will also be able to detect extended periods of disturbed movement or posture, and can produce a quieter alert. “This will tell the patient to be careful in the next few hours or days,” say the developers.
They hope it will be available within two years.
This lightweight vest, which resembles a thermal vest, has electrodes stitched into the fabric to measure heart activity.
The cardiac vest, as it’s known, is thin enough for patients to wear under clothes and can be used for round-the-clock monitoring (it must be removed for showers).
The developers say it enables doctors to get a more detailed view of how the heart responds during normal activities, rather than basing diagnosis on tests carried out in hospitals.
The developers say the vest will be easier to use than standard wearable monitors, as it contains no wires (currently electrodes must be stuck to the chest and arms, and connected to a pack worn on the belt).
In a similar development, scientists at the University of Arkansas have developed an E-Bra for women and E-Vest for men, monitoring heart health. These both contain tiny wireless sensors that measure breathing, oxygen consumption, nerve activity and heart rate.
“It enables continuous, real-time monitoring to identify any changes,” says developer Professor Vijay Varadan. ‘The garment collects and transmits vital health signals to any desired location in the world through its tiny sensors.’
The device could be available within the next two years.
Originally designed for military use, this shirt monitors vital signs such as body temperature and heart rate.
The developers, from Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, have called their device the Wearable Motherboard Shirt and say it could help prevent sudden infant death, as it could sound an alarm when heart rate or body temperature drop below normal levels.
They also say it could be useful in monitoring adults who are recovering from an operation, as sometimes these patients can quickly succumb to an infection.
The T-shirt is still undergoing tests, but the developers hope it could become available in the next three years. - Daily Mail