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Waterloo researchers use tech tank top to detect heart problems

A team of University of Waterloo researchers have started using wearable technology to flag whether a person might be experiencing the onset of a respiratory or cardiovascular disease.

The lead investigator, Thomas Beltrame, and his team are looking at chronic illnesses that have symptoms of declining aerobic fitness.

The team used sensors embedded in shirts that could collect data from a person as they moved about their day, and interpreted the data using artificial intelligence software.

The sensors measured heart rate, breathing rate and breathing volume, activity and sleep.

Researchers found the data could predict results of a laboratory cardiovascular test where the person is monitored while they undergo vigorous activity — even without having to exercise while wearing the shirt.

“[Beltrame] extracted the data from their normal daily activities,” Richard Hughson, a co-author on the study and Beltrame’s PhD supervisor, told CBC News.

Intervention before illness

Hughson said researchers can now start to look for indicators that a person’s health may be failing without doctors having to order a formal test after they start seeing symptoms.

“You want to try to intervene before people get so sick that they need medical care or hospitalization,” he said.

He said when people start to get sick, their physical activity declines, and lack of physical activity is also closely tied to some diseases.

“The two things are sort of happening together here,” Hughson said.

Richard Hughson is a kinesiology professor at the Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging.(www.uwaterloo.ca/kinesiology/people-profiles/richard-hughson)

At this point, the project has completed its initial proof of concept study, by having active, healthy men in their 20s participate.

This research was recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Hughson said he will be working on an extension of the project to see if the technology also works for other groups of people such as older people or children.

Eventually the software used to interpret the data may be available for purchase or doctors may have access to the information for medical intervention, he said.

Next year, a separate project is planned to get astronauts to wear the same T-shirt, with the aim of measuring their activity levels while in space.


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