May 27, 2024

A research team at The Lundquist Institute has been awarded a four-year grant to develop a wearable biosensor that can monitor continuously the risk of acute exacerbations by analyzing the sweat of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The grant, worth more than $2.6 million, was awarded by the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity and is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program.

The project is a collaborative effort with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and led by Harry Rossiter, PhD, a TLI investigator and a professor of respiratory and critical care physiology and medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Goal is to bring ‘wearable electronics into chronic disease management’

Researchers will work to identify early, tell-tale signs that can offer real-time advice on disease management without the need for repeat blood samples.

“The proposed sensor has the potential to not only revolutionize COPD management but also to impact healthcare by incorporating wearable electronics into chronic disease management,” Rossiter said in a LTI press release.

COPD, which affects 16 million Americans and is the third leading cause of death worldwide, is marked by chronic inflammation in the lungs that blocks airflow. It leads to disease symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, and persistent cough.

People with COPD experience periods when symptoms worsen suddenly, known as acute exacerbations or flares. These exacerbations are usually triggered by an infection, and they can last for several days, often leading to hospitalization and requiring antibiotics.

Predicting a flare can be challenging, but early signs of a response to infection can be detected in the blood or sweat.

“Our ultimate goal is to develop a wearable system to preempt [acute exacerbations], providing an early warning system to move treatment earlier in the exacerbation process and thereby reduce patient morbidity, mortality, hospitalization, and healthcare utilization,” Rossiter said.

Rossiter’s collaboration with Wei Gao, PhD, a materials scientist and engineer at Caltech, has resulted in the creation of a biosensor that can be worn as a patch, allowing for real-time measurements of C-reactive protein in the sweat of COPD patients with active or past infections. C-reactive protein is an inflammatory molecule, and its levels in the blood can be used to distinguish mild from moderate flares.

The new grant will fund the groundwork for developing a wearable biosensor that can measure multiple molecules in sweat, with the goal of better predicting future acute exacerbations in a noninvasive way.

“In partnership with Dr. Harry Rossiter and The Lundquist Institute, our team at Caltech is advancing medical technology with wearable biosensors,” Gao said. “Our aim with this project is to transform chronic disease management and push healthcare towards continuous, non-invasive monitoring for better health.”

The Lundquist Institute is a nonprofit biomedical research organization and is affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles.

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