Smart Shirt Could Help Monitor Lung Disease

Samara Rosenfeld
SEPTEMBER 30, 2019
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Images/Thumb have been modified. Credit: Denise Mannée.

Traditional devices used to measure breathing are bulky and not practical for measuring everyday activity. But a smart shirt could replace the need for large, noticeable equipment and accurately measure lung function, researchers found.

Using a smart shirt, called the Hexoskin, and a mobile app, researchers measured breathing in healthy people who were carrying out everyday tasks. The technology could be used to check the health of patients with respiratory conditions.

“Ultimately, we want to improve patients’ quality of life,” said Denise Mannée, a technical physician and Ph.D. candidate at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands. “If we can accurately monitor patients’ symptoms while they go about their normal activities, we might be able to spot problems and treat them sooner, and this in turn could mean less time in the hospital.”

The difference between measurements for lying down taken by the two pieces of equipment — the smart shirt and the traditional device — was an average of 0.2%, or a few milliliters of air. In more strenuous activities like vacuuming, the difference was on average 3.1%, or about 40 milliliters.

“These results are important because they indicated that the smart shirt can be worn by patients while they go about their daily lives to accurately measure their lung function,” Mannée said.

The Hexoskin senses how the fabric stretches when the wearer’s chest expands and contracts. The measurements gauge the volume of air inhaled and exhaled. The smart shirt also records heart rate and movement.  

A group of 15 volunteers wore the Hexoskin while doing activities including lying down, sitting, standing, climbing stairs and vacuuming. Participants reported that the Hexoskin was comfortable and could be worn under their clothes.
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The volunteers also completed the tasks while wearing the traditional equipment, which includes a face mask and a backpack, to create a second set of data. 

Calibrations from the first use of the smart shirt were not reliable for the second set of measurements, researchers said. That means the equipment needs to be recalibrated each time the Hexoskin is used, the research team suggested.

Ultimately, the goal is to use the smart shirts on patients with Chronic Obtrusive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is a growing problem worldwide.

“When patients suffer an increase in their symptoms, such as coughing and breathlessness, they need to be monitored more closely,” said Mannée.

The research team plans to repeat tests on patients with COPD and said the smart shirt could also help patients with other respiratory conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis or after transplantation.

Monitoring these patients could help predict worsening symptoms and lead to earlier treatment, said Thierry Troosters, Ph.D., from University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium, Germany.  

“Smart shirt technology offers a promising, though relatively expensive, tool for monitoring patients’ respiratory health status during normal activities in a way that does not interfere too much with their daily lives,” Troosters said. “Combined with using a smartphone interface, such data may help to inform trained healthcare providers about the ‘status’ of their patients.”

The research and findings were presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress.

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