Learn more about e-textiles at the e-textile research lab website.
For patients with a variety of illnesses, diagnosis and treatment can be limited by the availability of accurate information regarding the patient’s daily activities. Tom Martin and Mark Jones are working with researchers at the University of Minnesota’s apparel program on a minimally-invasive way to gather this information using e-textile clothing for ambulatory monitoring. They have received a $306,000 NSF grant for the project.
“E-textiles are fabrics that have electronics and networks as an intrinsic part of the cloth,” Martin explains. This technology allows Martin and his colleagues to create “intelligent garments that look and feel like everyday clothing.” E-textile clothing can have sensors over a large portion of the body.
According to Martin, it can be hard to assess a patient’s state of health in a short visit with a clinician. However, it is also hard for patients to remember to keep an accurate log of every daily activity, and many are unwilling to wear obvious monitoring devices. This makes the low-profile e-textile technology valuable as a way to gather the data without requiring active patient interaction.
Two specific applications for the project are blood-pressure monitoring and physical therapy garments. The blood-pressure garment will map blood-pressure measurements to different activities, while the physical therapy garment will allow physical therapists to “assess the activity levels, exercise compliance, and range of motion of a patient,” says Martin.
The goal is to create what is called “wear-and-forget” monitoring. The garments will be able to classify the wearer’s activity and the intensity of that activity, in addition to any physiological monitoring. The team is working on methods that adapt data collection characteristics during run-time. This would give the added capability for medical personnel to specify a set of conditions under which physiological data should be collected.
A large part of wear-and-forget is the clothing itself. Monitoring is easy with tightly fitting bodysuits, according to Martin. The real challenge, he says, is to design an architecture, including the algorithms, that can be successfully applied to the type of looser-fitting clothing that is worn by most people, where sensors will observe motion that is due to the garment’s movement, not necessarily the body’s. Developing garments that can be used by people with reduced mobility and that works accurately on the wide range of human size and activity levels, is also a challenge, he says.
Nearly half of Americans have at least one chronic illness, according to the Center for Disease Control. Ambulatory monitoring garments would have a significant impact on national health.