Researchers are developing a smart shirt that -together with a mobile app – can reliably measure breathing in healthy people while carrying out a range of everyday activities.
This means they can now test out the smart shirts with patients who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If successful, they hope this will allow doctors to monitor patients remotely for early signs that their condition is getting worse. The research was presented by Denise Mannée, a technical physician and PhD candidate at Radboud University Medical Centre in The Netherlands.
In a release she said: "COPD is a growing problem with around 64 million people suffering with the condition worldwide. When patients suffer an increase in their symptoms, such as coughing and breathlessness, they need to be monitored more closely. Symptoms first occur during daily activities like climbing stairs and housework, but respiration is hard to monitor in such conditions. This is traditionally done in the clinic with equipment such as an exercise bike, facemask, and computer. The equipment is not very practical for measuring everyday activity.
The smart shirt, called the Hexoskin, senses how the fabric stretches when the wearer's chest expands and contracts and uses these measurements to gauge the volume of air inhaled and exhaled. It also records heart rate and movement. Mannée and her colleagues asked a group of 15 healthy volunteers to wear a smart shirt while doing everyday activities including lying down, sitting, standing, climbing stairs and vacuuming.
At the same time, the volunteers also wore the equipment traditionally used to measure breathing that includes a face mask and a bulky backpack. The volunteers repeated the tasks wearing both pieces of equipment, to generate a second set of data.
The researchers now plan to repeat tests on the smart shirts with COPD patients, but they believe the technology might also help in other respiratory conditions such as asthma, cystic fibrosis or after transplantation.