In clinical settings, researchers are focused on developing new wearable devices and algorithms that detect deeper levels of health data from patients within minutes. In some cases, new wearable devices capable of obtaining physiological data could replace invasive efforts to draw blood or swab for fluids from patients by using an optical biosensor placed on a patient’s finger, or other areas of the body. The research could potentially transform initial screening methods used to identify organ dysfunction and infections.
The ability to bypass time-consuming office visits and lab tests to secure initial health data could arm doctors with faster insight into possible infection, saving precious time when determining treatment in situations where a patient’s health may be quickly be declining. In the age of highly infectious diseases like COVID-19, the marriage of biosensor technology on the network edge and telemedicine could also help reduce the number of in-person office visits required by remotely linking patient test data to HIPPA-compliant platforms.
Optical Biosensors for Faster Detection of Infection
Most wearables available today monitor a person’s blood oxygen by directing two optical wavelengths in the form of infrared and red light onto the skin. The data is then processed using pulse pressure wave form algorithms to provide an accurate reading. Researchers have gained a deep understanding of these algorithms and their relationships to clinically-associated blood biomarkers in order to develop a new, more expanded solution.
New wearable biosensors currently in development can measure at least five wavelengths of light, collecting data from a wider range of activity related to cardiovascular health. By using optical measurements known as pulse photoplethysmorgraphy (PPG) sampling and smart signal processing that is directed at the endothelium (cells that line blood vessels in human organs), disease can quickly be detected.
Very often, weakened immune response patients also have endothelial dysfunction. These endothelium cell junctions break down further in response to a foreign organism or infection. When a patient has an uncontrollable amount of infection that leads to organ failure, the unfortunate result is sepsis, which is the leading cause of disease-related deaths in hospitals.
By applying concentrated monitoring to the endothelium, the new optical biosensor can provide real time data about major organs such the lungs, kidney, pancreas, and liver, as well as overall endothelial health. At the core of these efforts, researchers are gathering clinical evidence on healthy patients versus unhealthy ones, to better understand how to rapidly screen for infection.
Using PPG technology, researchers have begun to map organ functions that can be measured in the pulse pressure domain. Additionally, they have developed human body models based on clinical observations and applied machine learning to develop special algorithms for certain sickness classifications such as infection and sepsis, including COVID-19 asymptomatic and symptomatic.
The optical biosensor, combined with smart algorithms, is being studied extensively by the scientific community and is currently being tested in a number of clinical trials.
Taking More Control with Connected Health
Current clinical research on optical biosensors could open new doors for front-end patient care, providing the ability to rapidly obtain health data and offer guidance within minutes, whether from an ambulance, at a testing site, or in a doctor’s office. This approach would provide more details about the severity of an illness in a first-level screening rather than just a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ reading, allowing doctors to rapidly determine the right care.
In the future, optical biosensors could enable consumers to take better control of their own health with inexpensive and connected wearable devices that provide critical data before a person ever has to leave home. A parent could not only monitor a child’s temperature but also gain other clues about how the child’s immune system is functioning and communicate remotely with the family doctor regarding treatment. In another scenario, an elderly person could monitor chronic conditions via a personal wearable device that enables a doctor to provide targeted, directional care more quickly and effectively via telemedicine.
Over the next five years, further integration of clinical testing, big data, and AI will be applied to map out even more non-invasive blood panel data possibilities, providing early warning of infections and potentially other diseases, using highly connected and inexpensive devices that are running on the network device edge.
Robert Newberry is a senior director of engineering at Sanmina Corporation and has worked in international product design and manufacturing for more than 25 years. He leads Sanmina's innovation team, with a focus on medical and automotive technology development and IP. Newberry has authored more than 30 patents and is a recognized thought leader in medical sensing technologies. Currently, he is involved in an international research effort that is analyzing use of a novel optical biosensor for the early diagnosis of sepsis and severe COVID-19. Newberry earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Matthew Rodencal is an electrical design engineering supervisor at Sanmina Corporation and has worked on innovations over the past five years at Sanmina. He specializes in hardware design, firmware design and biometric algorithm design. Rodencal has authored seven patents and is well respected as an expert in noninvasive biosensor design. Currently, he is involved in the development of COVID-19 testing solutions. Rodencal earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.