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Could Smart Devices Alert Children About Asthma Triggers?

November 30, 2015
by David Raths
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UCLA–USC team to create platform that funnels data to smart devices from sensors placed in locations at their homes and schools

Researchers from UCLA and the University of Southern California are developing a technology platform designed to enable users’ smartphones and smart watches to notify them of their unique triggers for asthma attacks. 

The four-year, $6 million grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering is part of a national $144 million initiative called Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS), which aims to blend big data with mobile technology to develop tools that shed light on the environment’s role in children’s health. In another project focused on asthma, University of California-Davis researchers received a four-year, $1.5 million grant to develop a small, wearable sensor that can measure the relationship between environmental exposures and pediatric asthma.

The UCLA–USC award was the largest of the nine projects funded by the program.

 “Our goal is to predict where and when a child is at risk for an asthma attack so we can prevent one from happening,” 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 prepared statement.

UCLA will create a platform that funnels data to the user’s smart device from sensors that will be worn by the children and placed in various locations at their homes and schools. The device will securely transmit the information to a cloud-based system, where it will be integrated with each individual patient’s electronic health record and real-time reports on weather conditions, air quality, pollen count and other factors that could trigger asthma attacks. 

“One of the biggest challenges will be making the smart device user-friendly for young children,” Bui said. “Kids like intuitive interfaces with bright colors, simple language, big text and quirky noises. We’re having fun exploring how to build those facets into our design.” 

The platform will incorporate a calendar that tracks asthma attacks and, based on that information, alert users when conditions might be right for another attack. 

USC researchers will field-test the sensors and systems, and will provide guidance on the system’s design. They also will contribute expertise on environmental factors and pediatric health.

Initial beta-testing will take place during 2016; during 2017 Bui’s team will test the technology with children being treated at UCLA for asthma. Researchers will evaluate how the sensors work as the children go about their daily routines at home, in school and at play.