That National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences has awarded researchers from Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology a $2.46 million grant to develop a multi-sensor biopatch for farm workers that can predict symptoms of heat-related illness, dehydration and acute kidney injury.
The four-year grant will allow the team to develop a wearable wireless unit for farm workers with sensors that can integrate important physiological signals, predict adverse heat-related medical events, and generate heatInformation about it in real time.
The results of the project will lead to an interventional study in which data from the biopatch will be sent to an Android device. The team will develop artificial intelligence (AI) tools to predict study outcomes. In future research, the team envisages data sent to the android from the biopatch being processed using these tools. Once processed, alerts can be sent from the Android device to workers, if needed, to help determine if the technology can reduce morbidity associated with occupational heat exposure.
Escalating trends in rising ambient temperatures put marginalized populations with low levels of occupational safety, such as farm workers, who are routinely occupationally exposed to hot, humid environments, at increased risk of the acute health effects of heat exposure. says Vicky Hertzberga principal investigator of the project and professor at the Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.
“Heat-related illness and dehydration are particularly insidious because they can quickly progress from moderate discomfort to confusion and impaired judgment, reducing the affected worker’s ability to seek necessary medical attention,” she says. “A wearable device with clear information about heat illnesses will help farm workers know when to seek help.”
Hertzberg includes the fellowship’s principal investigators W. Hong Yeoa Woodruff Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech, and Lixionga Samuel Candler Dobbs professor in the Emory Institute for Computer Science. Xiong will lead the development of predictive models related to the research, and Yeo will lead the development of the biopatch.
“We know that once we get continuous, real-time physiological data, we can prevent this problem,” says Yeo, director of the Georgia Tech IEN Center for Human-Centric Interfaces and Engineering. “Currently, it is very difficult to measure real-time events due to the limitations of existing sensor or device technology.”
Traditional wearable devices tend to be rigid, heavy and bulky – not useful for workers who spend a lot of time moving around.
“All this movement means we’re losing data, so we’re creating a reliable solution,” says Yeo, whose Biointerfaced Translational Nanoengineering Groupspecializes in developing soft wearable health monitors that use stretchable electronics.
“Once we have this continuous data, the challenge is to fuse this multimodal data in real time and make reliable predictions for interventions,” says Xiong. “I look forward to working with the team to develop the AI tools and test them in the field.”
Assistant Professor at the Emory School of Nursing Roxana Chicas will lead the field team evaluating use of the biopatch among outdoor workers, and Jeff SandsProfessor at the Emory Department of Medicine and director of Emory University Department of Kidney Medicine, provides renal expertise. The team is completed by Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli, Managing Director of Florida Farm Workers’ Union. The association and the nursing school have a strong partnership in the field of community-based care Research among farm workers in Florida. Much of the data generated from this partnership has also gone into producing educational material for farm workers on their health and safety and rights in their workplace.
Research reported in this grant is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under grant number R01ES033241. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.