Phone apps that measure our sleep and movement patterns, or technology that uses AI to detect an oncoming epileptic seizure – sensors that measure health data come in many forms. And they are invaluable for obtaining all the health data that forms the basis for new treatments and, not least, increased precision in healthcare and social care.
Sensors take many forms and can measure and generate data relating to a range of health parameters.
“When you say ‘health data’, you often think of the slightly simpler aspects – movement, temperature, sleep, respiratory rate or heart rate – things that can be measured non-invasively,” says Sjoerd Haasl, researcher in sensor systems and microsystem technology. “Moving a little closer to the body, there are sensors that use light to measure oxygenation in the blood, followed by electrodes that can measure EEG or ECG, for example. If you go another step closer, there are electrodes that sit under the skin or in the mouth, or are designed as pills that you swallow.”
Data leads to precision
So, large amounts of data about our health can be collected, but what do we want to do with it? At one end of the scale there may be a person who wants to keep track of their body and health, while at the other end there are plenty of medical applications.
A concrete example of how well sensors can help with things that are otherwise difficult to quantify is technology that can detect an epileptic seizure. To follow the course of the disease, you currently have either self-reporting, which is fairly inaccurate as the patient may have short seizures that they do not always know about, or the patient is observed for a day in the hospital, which is resource-intensive and only offers a snapshot.
“A sensor placed on the head can instead record all seizures and monitor and manage which drugs work and how well they work,” says Astrid Armgarth, who researches printed electronics, bioelectronics and e-textiles. “In addition, they can communicate an oncoming seizure in advance. They use sensor data and AI to identify each patient’s patterns and needs.”
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The needs are endless
The needs that may lead to new innovations with the help of sensor data remain to be seen, but the possibilities are many – almost endless. Organisations, companies, or people who have identified a need, and require help in finding a sensor system as a potential solution, often turn to RISE.
“Often when you come to us, you don’t know exactly what your need is,” says Haasl. “We identify it together and look at the best possible solutions, without committing to a specific technology.”
The needs can be almost anything. From smart horseshoes that help veterinarians detect lameness, to smart drug tests for the police to quickly detect what a person has in their blood, and which can then be discarded. Another example is smart wound dressings.
“If you have chronic sores, you shouldn’t open the dressing and touch the sore too much; it’s better to apply the dressing and leave it alone,” explains Armgarth. “So, there was a need: to know when it’s time to change the dressing. We came up with a smart solution based on printed electronics, which tells us when the dressing is wet and needs to be replaced. In this way, the number of unnecessary changes could be reduced, enabling better healing of the wounds.”
Make use of broad expertise
Developing sensors for health data is a process. For good reason, there is an extensive regulatory framework, which, among other things, dictates what to do with the data and what happens if things go wrong.
“If, for instance, you have a thermometer that is inaccurate, is there a risk that a patient will not get the care they need? In contrast to an app, for example, which can be developed in a relatively short time, you have a great responsibility here and you must be able to back up your idea with medical studies,” says Haasl, who believes that you should not be deterred if you want to use sensors in your business, since RISE can provide support and experience – from all stages in the process:
“Don’t be intimidated by the challenges, contact us instead. We have a network that covers the entire field. We have knowledge of everything from materials science, sensors and sensor systems to medical technology, the regulations governing it, and different types of applicable production methods.”