Stanford launches research center for wearables

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund

Stanford University is launching a new lab designed to pull measurable and meaningful data from wearable devices.

The Stanford Center for Medical Mobile Technology is being overseen by Matthew Smuck and Christy Lane, co-founders of Vivametrica, a Canadian company working on an analytics platform for wearables. Lane, an "exercise scientist" who has worked at academic medical institutions in both the United States and Canada, sees the new lab as an opportunity to tie consumer devices to the provider community.

"We want to leverage the capabilities of mobile technology for healthcare," she told mHealth News. "We know all that biometric information is there. How do we make it meaningful?"

The center is poised to tap into one of the fastest-growing segments in mHealth – analysts predict the wearables market will increase tenfold to $50 billion over the next three to five years – but one still dominated by consumer-facing devices that don't hold interest with clinicians.

Stanford's new center pops up amid a West Coast hotbed of mHealth research. The University of Southern California has its own USC Center for Body Computing, while down the road in San Diego there are the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, Palomar Health's Glassomics incubator, the West Health Institute and the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance. On the opposite side of the country, mHealth research in wearables has been dominated by Partners Healthcare's Center for Connected Health and UPMC's Center for Connected Medicine, to name just a few.

With Vivametrica, Lane has been doing a lot of work with accelerometers. She sees an untapped potential in how wearable devices equipped with accelerometers can measure exercise, and how that data can be used by clinicians to "identify optimal timing for treatment" of chronic conditions, obesity-related issues and rehabilitation, among others. She feels that many clinicians aren't making the connection between exercise and healthcare, and sees the Stanford lab as an opportunity to prove that point.

"We haven't had the objective tools to measure and interpret exercise until now," she said. "And that's what healthcare needs. One of the main issues in healthcare is outcomes. So much is subjective, and we need objective outcomes."

Smuck, whom Lane first met while doing research at the University of Michigan, agreed.

“Though the wearables market is growing rapidly, and alongside it the availability of biometric information, it commonly lacks the validity needed for medical application," he said in a press release announcing the lab's launch. "By applying rigorous medical research methodology and advanced statistics to the analysis of mobile technology data, our research team aims to create new insights into human diseases and develop modern tools for detection and prevention. I am excited to take part in this important, ground-breaking research in pursuit of the advancement of human health.”

The center has a staff of five and is currently engaged in five studies. And while initial projects will focus on accelerometers and related devices, Lane expects the center will expand to encompass all sorts of devices in the future.