The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is supporting a team of Southern Methodist University (SMU) psychology professors and University of Maryland engineers with a $2 million grant to help them create a wearable device for pediatric asthma patients designed to avoid asthma triggers.
Said asthma device will monitor air quality (including pollen levels and temperature), carbon dioxide levels in the blood, physical activity, breathing, emotional states and other stimuli to identify each patient’s individual asthma triggers and alert them when conditions are ripe for an attack. At the moment, the device is designed as a portable unit, but the Maryland team is miniaturizing it so that it can be worn as a vest.
The team includes SMU psychology professors Thomas Ritz and Alicia Meuret, University of Maryland Center for Advanced Sensor Technology professors Yordan Kostov, Xudong Ge and Govind Rao, and environmental engineering researchers Chris Hennigan and electrical engineering researchers Ryan Robucci and Nilanjan Banerjee, also from the University of Maryland.
According to Ritz, 25-30 percent of patients have asthma symptoms triggered by emotional stimuli, which can be demonstrated by experiments with mood induction.
Right now the device is designed as a portable unit, but the Maryland team is miniaturizing it so that it can be worn as a vest.“That percentage is clinically significant,” he said. “It’s a large endeavor with researchers from across the United States working on it and exchanging experience to develop their projects further.”
While the Maryland team works on the hardware part — and other research teams across the country work on the software — SMU’s Ritz and Meuret are working on the psychology and the clinical testing of the device with patients. Starting in January, they will conduct tests where students wearing the sensors change their breathing systematically or watch mood-inducing stimuli, such as sad, frightening or joyful movie clips.
Other tests of the environmental sensors will be done with adolescent asthma patients’ daily life to generate the data that will make the device’s components eventually run smoothly.