Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Success with Smart Garments

Researchers at Concordia University in Montreal are examining VivoMetric’s remote patient monitoring system called LifeShirt®. The researchers are trying to find out the lifestyle factors that may put children at risk for developing cardiovascular diseases as they grow older. The study is an inter university project along with researchers contributing from INRS-Institute Armand Frappier, as well as McGill and Laval universities. Funding for the project is being provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Children enrolled in the Healthy Heart Project at the university wear the LifeShirt®, a lightweight, comfortable “smart garment” with embedded sensors. The children wear the garment in their normal home environments, while the system continuously collects accurate vital sign data to help researchers understand how physical activity, sleep patterns, eating habits and stress levels might put kids at later risk for heart disease.

Numerous studies have shown that RPM has the ability to curb costs and improve outcomes of patients with chronic diseases, with an estimated potential savings of $300 billion over the next 25 years in the U.S. alone.

VivoMetrics has joined the Continua Health Alliance. “Through our partnership with Continua, we can help to advance a much needed system of personal telehealth devices that will work together,” said Howard Baker, President and CEO of VivoMetrics. He continued to say that as members, we can share in the development of design guidelines and product certifications that will help deliver on the promise of RPM.

In another university research related project, engineers at the University of Michigan are developing a carbon nanotube coated smart yarn with antibodies able to detect albumin a protein common in blood. The yarn is able to conduct electricity and can be woven into soft fabrics to detect blood and also provide health monitoring. For example, if someone is bleeding, the clothing can sense the blood and can send a signal through the clothing’s carbon nanotube to activate an emergency device.

Currently, smart textiles are made primarily of metallic or optical fibers. They are fragile, not particularly comfortable to wear, can corrode, and may have problems when washed. According to Nicholas Kotov, Professor in the Departments of Chemical Engineering, Materials Science, and Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, a much better way to develop smart yarn is to combine two fibers, one natural and one created by nanotechnology. This new material is more sensitive and selective as well as durable than other electronic textiles”.

Clothing that can detect blood could be used in high risk professions. An unconscious firefighter, ambushed soldier, or police officer in an accident can’t always send a distress signal to a central command post, but the smart clothing would have this capability.

Kotov reports that a communication device such as a mobile phone could conceivably transmit information from the clothing to a central command post. The concept of electrically sensitive clothing made of carbon-nanotube-coated cotton could be adapted for a variety of health monitoring tasks by using biomonitoring and telemedicine sensors.

According to the engineers, in the future, it is conceivable that this material could be designed to harvest energy and store the energy to provide power for small electronic devices. However, these developments pose challenges and may be many years away.

The research findings recently published online in “Nano Letters” and in the American Chemical Society Journal were funded by NSF, the Office of Naval Research, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.