Wrist-worn wearable spots signs of IBD

Researchers have designed a wearable device that monitors sweat for biomarkers that could signal flare-ups of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

IBD
UT Dallas researchers designed a prototype of a wristwatch-like device that detects two key biomarkers associated with inflammatory bowel disease (Image: University of Texas at Dallas)

Bioengineers at the University of Texas at Dallas demonstrated the wristwatch-like device in a proof-of-concept study funded by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.

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A sensor in the device detects and quantifies the presence of interleukin-1β and C-reactive protein (CRP), which are two key biomarkers associated with IBD. The study is said to be the first to establish that CRP is present in human sweat and the first to show that the two biomarkers can be detected in sweat.

Dr. Shalini Prasad, department head and professor of bioengineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and the study’s principal investigator, said the technology could provide a warning but not a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease. The goal of the work is to develop a device to help patients gain more control over IBD, which can be unpredictable.

“It’s like the check-engine light in a car,” Dr Prasad said in a statement. “The warning signal doesn’t mean a patient is having a flare-up, but it could give the person the chance to intervene earlier, when the symptoms may be more responsive to treatment. The device also could help doctors understand sooner whether a treatment is working.”

The researchers monitored the levels of the two biomarkers in 20 healthy volunteers to show that the biomarkers could be tracked and to establish the levels of biomarkers in people without IBD.

The researchers used passive sweat, so the wearer did not need to engage in physical activity or have their sweat glands expressed to generate a sample. The sweat is collected on a removable strip incorporated into the wrist device that must be changed daily. That the device collects passive sweat is important because people with IBD may be unable to exercise at levels needed to generate active sweat, Prasad said.

The prototype will be tested on patient volunteers in a second phase of the research, also funded by the foundation, and must undergo further testing before it can become available to patients.

The device has the potential to track other diseases and conditions marked by an inflammatory response. Prasad’s team is investigating whether it could alert people to increases in cytokines, which are proteins released by the immune system at the early stages of a viral infection, such as COVID-19.