5 Medical Specialties Improved by Smart Sensors

5 Medical Specialties Improved by Smart Sensors

Biosensors are becoming ubiquitous across many industries from agriculture and biodefense, to food and beverage.

According to recent reports, the global biosensors market is growing by leaps and bounds and is estimated to reach $27 billion by 2022. The demand for biosensors is particularly high in the healthcare industry.

Whether wearable or indigestible, biosensors have proved to be a safe and cost-effective way to diagnose and monitor an array of diseases from diabetes to cancer.

This technology has applications in nearly all specialities in the field of medicine. Today, however, we’re taking a closer look at how biosensors drove remarkable improvements in five medicine branches:

1. Neonatology

Wireless infant sensors have proven to be a safer, gentler way to monitor babies in hospitals’ neonatal intensive care units (NICU). This technology was first introduced earlier this year, in Northwestern University’s NICU departments.

A team of scientists from Northwestern conducted studies on premature babies at two major children hospitals in Chicago. They compared wireless sensors against monitoring systems. The conclusion?

Wireless infant sensors provide data as accurate as that from traditional monitoring system. The difference is that they are less invasive and allow for more parent-child interaction.

Traditional monitoring systems involves lots of wires attached on the baby’s fragile skin using aggressive adhesives. The wireless patches, on the other hand, are soft, skin-like, battery-free devices. And without the wire barrier, parents can hold and cuddle their babies, which has been shown to accelerate healing time.

2. Pulmonology

Adherence to treatment is a well-known issue among chronic patients. Statistics are especially alarming when it comes to those suffering from asthma. Studies show that the rates of nonadherence for these patients range from 30 to 70 percent.

It’s not that patients are lazy or forgetful. According to researchers “patients with asthma often have difficulty understanding the need for long-term controller medication because the purpose is unclear and potential benefits seem so remote.”

Smart sensors like the one developed by Propeller Health make it easier for these patients to understand the gravity of their condition and stick to a treatment plan.

All they have to do is attach the sensor to their asthma inhaler. The device will start keeping track of medication dosage, time and place, giving patients real insight on what may be causing their symptoms.

What’s more, the Propeller Health sensor can connect to an iOS or Android Smartphone via Bluetooth wireless.

“Doctors can view this data and see, not only how frequently the patient suffers attacks, but also tease apart the environmental factors that caused the distress,” says Orthogonal, a company that develops the medical software enabling smart sensors.

3. Oncology

There’s mounting evidence showing that early screening tools can drive up survival rates among patients with breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, women who discover their breast cancer at an early stage have a five-year survival rate survival rate of 90 percent or higher.  

However, traditional screening devices are not advanced enough to detect tumors in women with more dense breast tissues. These women —  including menopausal women — seem to have a higher risk of breast cancer.

Instead of getting a mammogram that might not be accurate, women can slip a biosensor in their bra and find out if their are at risk to develop a tumor. The wearable bra insert developed by Cyrcadia Health allows them to do just that.

The iTBra is powered by a medical software that uses pattern recognition, chronology and artificial intelligence to track temperature changes caused by new blood vessel growth associated with anomalies.

To collect enough data, women should wear the  iTBra underneath garments for anywhere between two and 24 hours.

4. Physiology

Patients with severe mental disorders have a hard time following through with prescribed treatment which not only makes their condition worse, but it can actually cost them their lives. Evidence-based research points that nonadherence among schizophrenic patients leads to a greater risk of relapse, hospitalization and suicide.

This phenomenon could soon be a thing of the past thanks to biosensors that track the ingestion of medications. One of them is Abilify MyCite.

Developed by Proteus Digital Health, Abilify is a digital pill embedded with a sensor that shows whether the patient has taken the pill or not.

The drug used for treating schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other major depressive disorder, the pill received FDA’s approval two years ago.

On a side note, in recent years, many scientists have also come forward and started suggesting combining biosensors with CBD oil, which is claimed to help with major depressive disorders. You can learn more about this emerging conversation here.

Here’s how it works:

Proteus’ sensor is no bigger than a grain of sand. Once it comes into contact with stomach  fluid, the sensor activates and starts detecting and recording when the patient ingested Abilify. This information is then stored into a patch worn by the patient, and sent to a caregiver or a physician smartphone.

5. Dental  

Bruxism or teeth grinding effects over 30 million American. Left untreated, it can lead to headaches, tooth decay, gum and periodontal disease, oral infections and tooth loss.

For those suffering from bruxism, mouth guards proved to be the most efficient way to bring relief and prevent severe teeth damage.

But 80 percent of those affected are unaware that they grind their teeth, and diagnosing bruxism can only be done via a complex sleep study. Enter the next generation of mouth guards.

These new mouth guards come with smart sensors that turn them into a biofeedback device for patients. OstiSense’s product for instance, is a wireless mouth guard that collects bruxism data tooth-by-tooth.

It registers things like frequency, damage and force. This information is then sent to a computer or smartphone via Bluetooth, so patients can easily share it with a dentist or orthodontist.

Developed by researchers at the University of Florida, the device is customizable. Every time a patient grinds his teeth, the mouth guard will either emit  a mild electrical pulse or activate a drug delivery system.

Despite biosensors’ ability to measure disease specific biomarkers with high precision, their widespread integration in medicine remains limited.

Companies like Orthogonal and Integrant are working on changing that. Their teams are developing medical software that will enable sensors to become faster, more reliable and compatible on both iOS and Android platforms.