EVANSTON, Ill. – Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a wearable sensor designed to be worn on the throat to support patients recovering from a stroke.
The sensor is part of a growing portfolio of stretchable electronics developed by John Rogers, an engineering professor at NU, in partnership with Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, that are precise enough for use in advanced medical care and portable enough to be worn outside the hospital, even during extreme exercise.
“Stretchable electronics allow us to see what is going on inside patients’ bodies at a level traditional wearables simply cannot achieve,” said Rogers in a statement. “The key is to make them as integrated as possible with the human body.”
The sensors stick directly to the skin, moving with the body and providing detailed health metrics, including heart function, muscle activity and sleep quality. They measure patients’ swallowing ability and patterns of speech, and aid in the diagnosis and treatment of aphasia, a communication disorder associated with stroke.
The tools that speech-language pathologists have traditionally used to monitor patients’ speech function—such as microphones—cannot distinguish between patients’ voices and ambient noise.
“Our sensors solve that problem by measuring vibrations of the vocal cords,” Rogers said.
Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a research hospital in Chicago, uses the throat sensor in conjunction with electronic biosensors on the legs, arms and chest to monitor stroke patients’ recovery progress. The intermodal system of sensors streams data wirelessly to clinicians’ phones and computers, providing a quantitative, full-body picture of patients’ advanced physical and physiological responses in real time.
“One of the biggest problems we face with stroke patients is that their gains tend to drop off when they leave the hospital,” said Arun Jayaraman, research scientist at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, in a statement. “With the home monitoring enabled by these sensors, we can intervene at the right time, which could lead to better, faster recoveries for patients.”