The University of Arizona, Caltech, Baylor School of Medicine, and the University of Southern California recently announced a joint initiative to spearhead the development of wearables for remote health monitoring.
The new initiative, known as C2SHIP (Center to Stream Healthcare in Place ) and led by University of Arizona electrical and computer engineering professor Dr. Janet Roveda seeks to connect clinicians to patients via wearable, portable, and implantable devices.
These devices allow doctors to gather patient data and provide care without patients needing to leave their houses.
As part of the program, each partner institution brings three to four industry partners from the commercial space to assist with the initiative.
The University of Arizona has partnered with Facebook’s Oculus, Apple’s supplier Foxconn and Philips Respironics to help shape this wearable initiative. The initiative leaders are currently working on membership agreements with Facebook, Foxconn, and Philip Respironics.
We sat down with Dr. Janet Roveda and Dr. Kathleen Melde, the two talented engineering leaders from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Arizona, to learn more about this $3 million dollar initiative.
Kathleen is on the leadership team along with fellow electrical and computer engineering researchers Hao Xin and Ao Li. Kathie is also the associate dean for faculty affairs and inclusion.
- The new wearables initiative is focused on developing clinically validated wearables and remote health monitoring. Has the University of Arizona previously worked on similar wearable and sensor-related initiatives?
It’s been a long journey for us at the University of Arizona. We both worked with various aspects of sensor and wearables design. We have been working for more than a decade on various wearable sensors, smaller sensors and systems, and other aspects of sensor communications.
Kathleen’s prior work with RF Antennas in sensors and my work in Biodesign played a big role in shaping some of our department’s past and current initiatives.
We started with sleep research, which used the Actiwatch to collect some data for young children. But it soon evolved into other areas beyond focussing on the quality of sensor data, such as how to establish communication and effectively stream the data out.
About seven or so years ago, we started to look into the health-related aspects, because a lot of stuff that we’re doing will hopefully end up as catalysts for change in the area of health monitoring and wellness.
2. What are some of the problems that you and the team are thinking through when it comes to wearables and remote health monitoring?
For one, the platforms that we plan to work on have to meet the HIPAA requirements for patient privacy.
We will be evaluating all the core components required for building out support for a good EHR system. The system has to have a reliable connection with the doctors. The University of Arizona is a proud partner of the IUCRC program (Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers) and we plan on leveraging that expertise into our program.
The rationale for having a wearable device that securely connects with your physician’s office is also extremely important to us.
Our systems will facilitate remote health features which means that your doctors should be able to talk with you, look at your health metrics, and offer medical advice. This absolutely requires a HIPPA based secured connection with the doctor’s office.
The other key component of the design has to address healthcare inequities and disparities. This is a strong value that guides various components of this program.
3. Does the new C2SHIP initiative require close industry partnership or is it purely an academic / University-driven program?
Currently, we have the four parties that got funded. But the intention is that this team will grow.
What happens is that every member and every one of those universities has to bring along at least three companies.
At the University of Arizona, we have teamed up with Facebook’s A/R and V/R platform Oculus, Foxconn, and Philips Respironics to assist us with this program.
We also plan to include a few non-profit organizations that can help us with this program to address the health inequity aspects of the program.
There’s 11% of people who don’t really have any health insurance coverage at all. So they literally have very little or no health care records inside the system.
Hopefully, this sensor will be distributed by all those nonprofit organizations, so we can collect the data and establish a meaningful EHR (electronic health record.)
4. Are there specific areas that you are thinking of such as hypertension management or diabetes/obesity related areas?
Yes, we are looking at these chronic health issues.
In addition, we are also looking at issues surrounding diabetic foot care, because this is an area we have had our teams work on for quite some time.
Over time, diabetes can cause nerve damage, also called diabetic neuropathy, that can cause tingling and pain, and can make you lose feeling in your feet.
When you lose feeling in your feet, you may not feel a pebble inside your sock or a blister on your foot, which can lead to cuts, sores, and even more serious problems.
So it’s not just glucose, that we have to monitor, we also have to put the sensors on people’s feet in order to monitor the full experience diabetes. If monitored, it can be treated early and help seniors who want to live independently.
So we are looking at not just a single sensor or a couple of sensors but invested in looking at multi-modality sensors.
And because our initiative is not inside a hospital setting, many individual sensors may suffer from quality issues. So that’s why we look at the multiple sensors, and focus on the quality of the sensors.
Furthermore, we are also exploring Edge computing to bring some of the AI algorithms or machine learning for detection and monitoring right into the device itself.
5. When you talk about the edge AI and machine learning components to it, are you visualizing a streamlined process where the output can be filed as a SaMD? (software as a medical device)
Yes. And the reason that we need a sturdy communication piece is that we have to bring the doctor inside of this loop.
Because if you’re just going put an algorithm on a watch or something, it does include the doctor in that loop. The whole reason we need the doctor to be in a loop is to ensure that the machine learning is clinically meaningful.
A doctor’s opinion combined with our engineering help us determine if we can train the algorithms on the cloud and then download it on the sensor or perform the SaMDs on the device itself.
I think the idea is to make the whole platform medical grade, with the appropriate quality of service delivery.
6. Kathleen, one of the challenges that exist today around innovative remote health monitoring is on the health policy side? Will the C2SHIP program address some of the challenges?
Yes, we do want to focus on some of the health policy elements. That is critical.
I almost see some of our site meetings being conference-style including three or more tracks—such as like sensors, computing platforms, and communications, maybe even policy.
I see a policy track because we have these private company partners that want to make this happen in the real-world and get this technology out in front of the consumer.
There’s also the hospitals so a policy component will play an important role.
Two of the partnering schools, Baylor and USC, have stellar public health programs and medical schools. And so I think that as we crack some of the strategic plans around the sensors, we also need to look at the next level around the policy components.
7. There are many grads and undergrads who want a career in biotechnology and wearable science. What advice do you have for someone who is trying to pursue a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Arizona with a specialty in Wearables?
We want this specialty to be a hallmark of the University of Arizona and its design engineering programs.
Currently, we have an endowment just for that! You can find it on our web page. Plus, we have a senior design program. And Janet and I both are mentors to the senior design teams. Janet and I advise teams and many of the teams’ students come from biomedical engineering.
We also want to attract qualified undergrads and graduates into our program at the University of Arizona. I’m an antenna nerd of the LSI. Janet is a circuits nerd with a PhD from Berkeley.
Now that we’re building an application that’s helping people, we think of it as a gateway for people to see these exciting platforms engineered from the ground up.
We are going to be focussing on the application layer, So we expect a lot of students to come in because that is relatable to an engineering mindset.
I do believe that for policy-related issues, clinical trials, FDA and all that stuff, we will bring in some mentors to help with that.
It’s one thing to build cars but it’s another thing when you’re dealing with people’s health. And so I see that as part of our learning process.
All of us are originally from engineering backgrounds and we stepped into healthcare. But now, we have people going from the other direction, they are doctors, MDs coming into the technology area.
I think the good news is we understand that this is complex. With people joining from different areas of expertise, we can break down this thing into pieces. And then hopefully, we have some training programs that bring it all together—engineering with the public health with the medical field.
For students exploring University of Arizona computer science or electrical engineering, we definitely recommend they reach out to us and learn more about the C2SHIP initiative as well as some of the other interesting work that we have been pursuing over the years in the area of sensor engineering and AI.
This new C2SHIP joint program under the leadership of Dr. Janet Roveda and others has great potential to overcome some of the challenges associated with wearables and remote health monitoring.
Huge Thanks to Emily Dieckman from the department to help facilitate this conversation!!
MyHealthyApple plans to follow these emerging developments as this program gets ramped up. And we’ll share it all with you.