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Using Smart Devices and Wearables to Tackle Childhood Asthma

Nine projects around the country will use mHealth technology, cloud-based platforms and electronic health records to help kids and their caregivers pinpoint asthma triggers and plan for possible attacks

- Researchers at Los Angeles’ two premier universities are joining forces to create an mHealth platform for children dealing with asthma.

The team of USC and UCLA researchers has been awarded two grants totaling more than $11 million from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering to create technology that collects biometric data from children, measures it against historic and environmental information, and alerts both the children and their caregivers to the potential for an asthma attack.

“Asthma is the most common chronic condition in children, and it weighs heavily on the nation in terms of public health, medical costs and quality of life,” said Alex Bui, a professor of radiological sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study’s principal investigator, in a news story issued by UCLA. “Our goal is to predict where and when a child is at risk for an asthma attack so we can prevent one from happening.”

The four-year project aims to create wearable devices (such as watches or smartphone sensors) for children that can accurately collect their data and transmit it to the cloud, where that information can be fed into the child’s electronic health record. The platform will also collect weather information, air quality, pollen count and other data from, among other locations, smart devices placed in the home and school, compare that against each child’s health data and alert caregivers as to when the conditions are right for an asthma attack.

Finally, the platform will store data from past asthma attacks, to help healthcare providers pinpoint trends unique to each child. Other apps will enable healthcare researchers to collect data across the platform for population health programs.

The data could also be used to alert the child or parents ahead of a potential health crisis.

“Let’s say that a past attack took place during a trip to the beach,” Bui said in the UCLA story. “Before a future beach visit, the smart device will remind the child or their caregiver to pack their inhaler and take their medication to ward off a future episode.”

The UCLA-USC team is one of nine to receive grants under the $144 million Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS) program. The team received a $6.09 million grant to create what it’s calling a Biomedical REAL-Time Health Evaluation (BREATHE) platform, while a separate $5.25 million grant will be used by researchers at USC to create the Data and Software Coordination and Integration Center (DSCIC).

PRISMS was launched earlier this year with asthma as its target, though officials hope to expand to other chronic conditions in the future.

Aside from the UCLA-USC teams, other research teams receiving PRISMS grants come from the University of Utah, the University of California at Davis, the University of Washington, George Washington University, Columbia University, Arizona State University and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

“Technology advances have become a powerful driver in studying and understanding the start and spread of disease,” Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes for Health, said in a Sept. 28 press release announcing the grants. “These projects will expand the toolbox available to researchers to improve our ability to characterize environmental exposures, understand how environmental exposures affect in utero development and function, and bolster the infrastructure for exposure research.”

The projects will also help the NIH to move on from the National Children’s Study, which was terminated in December 2014, and launch the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program in 2016.

“We are pursuing a new approach to achieve the goals of the former National Children’s Study,” NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence A. Tabak, DD., PhD, who has led the planning for redirection, said in the press release. “The ECHO program will capitalize on existing participant populations, support approaches that evolve with the science and take advantage of the growing number of clinical research networks and technology advances.”

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