Posted by Vi Hughes on May 08, 2019
Our speaker this week was Dr. Eleni Stroulia, from the Department of Computing Science at the U. of A. Eleni spoke to us about four new technologies that are helping to transform our health.  The first new technology is data collection in the form of life logging. Many people are now using many different types of computer applications and services to maintain a running log of everyday things that are happening in their lives. This data can hen be used to help us determine patterns in our physical and mental health. The second technology is machine learning which allows us to build data driven models of health and disease. It also allows us to build decision trees that can help us to make predictions. For example, if we learn that walking makes us feel good, we can incorporate more walking into our daily activities.  He third technology is gamification. Games engage people in a deep way because they allow people to do things that they are goo at, while challenging them at the same time to improve their skills. In this way, they can be used to incentivize healthy behaviours by encouraging people to move a little more, eat better and improve their quality of sleep.  The fourth technology involves decision making based on ubiquitous augmented intelligence. This is where a logging device such as an activity logging watch, can be connected in real time to software housed on the web which can then feed information back to you in real time on whether you are meeting your current goals, or need to do a little more activity that day.
Eleni said that the key to all of these improvements, is the sensing devices being used. There are currently many different types of sensing devices available, and many more are in development. Eleni is interested in intelligent sensors, that can be swallowed, or attached to your body, that will then send messages to your smart phone, letting you know what they have found. One such sensor is a small pill sized device that can be swallowed and will then sense the presence of heme, a component of blood, in your digestive tract. This can let you know whether you have a bleeding ulcer or other problem with your digestive tract.  Another type of sensor is a wearable sensor with a sticky pad that attaches to you and can track you heart rate. This sensor can alert you when it detects something that is not right and then ask you to record how you are feeling at that moment. This can, in turn, help to create a real time record for a health professional to evaluate later. Another type of sensor is one that attaches to your skin and can sense you blood glucose levels. It can talk wirelessly to an implanted insulin pump which can then supply more insulin to you as needed, without the need for intervention by the wearer. These can be invaluable for people with diabetes who are not physically or mentally able to handle their daily insulin dosing.  One more type of device is a sock for babies that can sense blood oxygen levels, which can provide care givers with notification that a problem is present.
Other types of sensing are the smart condo, which is an apartment like space that is fitted with sensors throughout to follow the movements and activities of the inhabitant. There are sensors built into all of the doors, cupboards, appliances, chairs and beds. This allows for a person to be evaluated on their daily activities without having another person present watching them. The information gained can then be used by occupational therapists to determine the type of treatment that may be required in order to improve a person’s quality of life.  One more type of sensor is a functional mobility analysis that entails the use of a virtual gym to evaluate a person’s balance, walking and other activities to allow an occupational therapist or physical therapist to make recommendations or create a treatment plan.
Eleni said that the Tricorder of Star Wars fame is now a reality, albeit one with limited ability. It will only be a matter of time before we have a hand held device that will allow us to perform many types of complicated testing in even the most rustic of places.  The use of these technologies is now and will continue to transform modern medicine.