A UCLA-USC team under a $6 million grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering will develop kid-friendly technology enabling smartphones and smart watches to identify risk factors and environmental triggers for asthma attacks.

Researchers will build a platform that enables smart devices to collect data from sensors worn by children and also placed in various locations at their homes and schools. The sensors will securely transmit data to a cloud-based system where it will be integrated with patients’ electronic health records and real-time reports on weather conditions, air quality, pollen count and other factors that could trigger asthma attacks. 

Also See: UCLA Air Quality App Joins Growing Field

“We’re trying to incorporate both the patients’ own electronic health record in addition to real-time sensing,” says Alex Bui, a professor of radiological sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study’s principal investigator. “This platform would integrate all of this information together. All the data is there. The question is how to make it meaningful.”

Geographic location in particular can be a key driver of asthma flare ups for children. For instance, in the Los Angeles area, Bui argues that kids’ proximity outside to a freeway can directly impact air quality.   

An important feature of this smart device is that it will have predictive models that will analyze patients’ behavior over time and incidences of asthma so that it can alert users when conditions might be ripe for another attack, comments Bui. He adds that one of the biggest challenges will be making the smart device user-friendly for children ages 7-12.

“Gamification is one of the key strategies of trying to engage them to keep them both informed and to educate them about their condition,” he asserts. “For younger children, they’re attracted more to simple tasks and are not going to necessarily fill out extensive questionnaires.” Bui believes the key is to make it fun for kids with intuitive interfaces using bright colors, simple language, big text and quirky noises. “We’re having fun exploring how to build those facets into our design.”

According to Bui, initial beta testing of the platform will take place next year and in 2017 his team will test the technology with children being treated at UCLA for asthma. Ultimately, the goal is to evaluate how the sensors work as the kids go about their daily lives.

For their part, USC researchers will field test the sensors and systems, providing guidance on the system’s design, as well as contribute expertise on environmental factors and pediatric health.

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