A multi-institution partnership that includes Caltech aims to develop clinically validated technologies to remotely monitor patient health
Caltech, the University of Arizona, Baylor College of Medicine, and USC have joined together to create a new National Science Foundation (NSF) center that aims to shift health care from a model that requires patients to receive care in a hospital or doctor's office to a model in which patients manage their health from home.
Dubbed the Center to Stream Healthcare in Place (C2SHIP) and led by University of Arizona electrical and computer engineering professor Janet Roveda, the collaboration seeks to connect clinicians to patients via wearable, portable, and implantable devices; these devices allow doctors to gather patient data and provide care without patients needing to leave their house. C2SHIP has been selected as an NSF Industry–University Cooperative Research Center. It is receiving an initial grant of at least $3 million from the NSF, with this award supplemented by industry funding.
"At Caltech, we will be device oriented, focusing on new wearable, portable or implantable sensor technologies and artificial intelligence tools for data analysis and visualization," says Chiara Daraio, director of the Caltech site of the new center and the G. Bradford Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics. "The idea is to go from bench to bedside. In order to accelerate knowledge transfer between academia and the medical field, we are collaborating with medical schools to have direct input in and access to clinical trials."
At Caltech, Daraio is already planning to work with Yu-Chong Tai, Anna L. Rosen Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering and Andrew and Peggy Cherng Medical Engineering Leadership Chair; and Azita Emami, Andrew and Peggy Cherng Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering and Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator; both of whom are co-investigators on the project. She will also work with Axel Scherer, Bernard Neches Professor of Electrical Engineering, Applied Physics and Physics; and Wei Gao, assistant professor of medical engineering. Daraio also hopes to recruit more Caltech researchers across campus to explore questions about medical diagnostics, cybersecurity, data manipulation, and the economic and social impact of remote health care.
"The C2SHIP center is an exciting program well matched to the Caltech engineering tradition of multidisciplinary work connecting fundamental science to translational opportunities" said Harry A. Atwater, Otis Booth Leadership Chair of Caltech's Division of Engineering and Applied Science.
The last two decades have seen an uptick in the numbers of people who have chosen to monitor their own health using wearable technology such as Fitbit and Apple watches. But even though information is being continually collected, these data have not been validated at a clinical level and so are not yet necessarily usable by medical professionals.
Some clinics, Roveda says, are already working toward in-home health care. For example, her own father recently was provided with a high-end blood pressure cuff for home use for a few months after he was put on a new medication for a heart condition. His doctors "wanted to make sure the new medication was regulating his blood pressure, so the device was continuously sending data to the clinic," she says. "There were a couple of days that he didn't want to wear it, and he got a call from the doctor checking on him. I see huge potential in a device like that. Our vision is that, someday, you could go to CVS and pick up not just a medication but also a home-care-based instrument to gather data about your health."
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clearer than ever that in-place care, especially of medically fragile patients who should not attend in-person appointments, can make a major difference.
"COVID-19 has disrupted best practices for preventing disease-related complications. In response, many health care providers are reengineering their pathways to promote 'care in place,'" said Bijan Najafi, co-director of C2SHIP, director of the Baylor College of Medicine site, professor in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery, and director of clinical research in the division of vascular surgery, in a press release. "Care in place is an increasingly important topic in health care, becoming the foreground in governance practices to decentralize care delivery and reduce care disparities."
The team is moving forward with a commitment to remote care that is stronger than ever.
"The proposal brings together quite a lot of potential research and industry firepower to focus on an area that couldn't be more primed for innovation," said David G. Armstrong, director of the USC site and professor of surgery and director of the Southwestern Academic Limb Salvage Alliance, in a press release. "We really have the potential to develop some of the basic foundations about how we merge consumer electronics and medical devices moving forward. Working with early-stage startups all the way up to the biggest of the big tech is such a spectacular gift. We look forward to paying it forward.