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UMass to Study Use of Wearables in Chronic Disease Management

A $1.23 million grant will support the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Nursing investigate the use of wearable devices, handheld technology and other strategies in chronic disease management.

- A $1.23 million grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research will allow the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Nursing to study how wearable devices, handheld technology tools, and other strategies could improve chronic disease management.  The grant will help establish a new research facility to address issues of fatigue and sleep problems.

Chronic disease management and wearable technology

The UManage Center to Build the Science of Symptom Self-Management is one of six new centers established by NIH grants in 2016, according to nursing professor and center director Cynthia Jacelon.

“The UManage Center will help individuals with chronic illness live healthier, more functional lives. Nurse-led interdisciplinary teams will use emerging technologies being developed on the UMass Amherst campus to help manage symptoms affecting millions of individuals with chronic conditions that interfere with living life to the fullest,” Jacelon said in a press release.

To help patients decide how and when to make lifestyle changes, studies will test the integration of wearables and handheld devices to monitor fatigue or sleep pattern changes. These technologies “will help (study subjects) stop and rest or change their sleep hygiene before it’s too late,” Jacelon stated.

Leveraging mHealth to improve sleep hygiene is already a pursuit of some of the largest companies in the tech industry. Last April, IBM and the American Sleep Apnea Association partnered to launch the SleepHealth app and SleepHealth Mobile Study.

The study, which runs through Apple’s ResearchKit platform, connects researchers with participating iPhone and Apple Watch users around the world. The app charts connections between users’ behaviors and sleep patterns, and provides health and sleep tips.

Jacelon will head an interdisciplinary team that includes multiple university researchers and experts from a variety of fields, including nursing, psychological and brain sciences, big data and health informatics.

The team will collaborate with industry partners on investigations, using labs and equipment from the Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS).

“This interdisciplinary work is the type of exciting new opportunity we envisioned that IALS infrastructure would catalyze,” said Stephen Cavanagh, Dean of the College of Nursing. “The program brings together a terrific research team that will create both innovation and impact.”

Cavanagh called the UManage Center an “outstanding achievement” for nursing research that “will create an environment where they can work and collaborate with other outstanding scholars working towards the common goal of improving health and the quality of life for those suffering from chronic illnesses.”

Nursing faculty members Karen Kalmakis and Rachel Walker will conduct the first two team research projects.

Kalmakis’s team will investigate whether sweat cortisol could be a potential indicator of stress and fatigue to help patients’ manage behaviors and responses. Walker’s team will look to develop a wearable eye-tracking device to help cancer patients monitor and manage chronic fatigue.

The UManage center will fund a total of 10 pilot projects over the next five years, Jacelon said. The projects aim to provide nursing faculty the opportunity to develop health improvement strategies, expand their research capacity and design large population-based studies.

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