Wearable Tech World Feature Article
February 19, 2013

Wearable Sensor Being Deployed to Prevent Diabetes-Related Foot Amputations

Wearable technology isn't just about touchscreen clothing or Apple's latest innovation. It often has far more practical uses. Take, for example, a simple sensor designed to alert diabetes patients when they neglect to wear the proper prescribed footwear.

Developed in an effort to prevent foot amputations caused by diabetes, the sensor aims to help patients adhere to prescribed footwear, called a removable cast walker, which can help to prevent or even heal foot ulcers in people with diabetes. These ulcers are caused when a person with diabetes loses sensation in the foot, making it so he or she doesn't feel a blister forming.

If left unchecked for long enough, amputation becomes necessary.

The removable cast walker promotes healing by reducing harmful pressure on the bottom of the foot, but it obviously can't be of any help if a patient doesn't wear it. This is why researchers at the University of Arizona Department of Surgery have teamed up with BioSensics, a company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which specializes in wearable sensor technologies, to design an alert sensor.

The sensor's effectiveness is currently being tested in study funded through a $400,000 National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation Research grant. The sensor being used in the first year-long phase of the study is a prototype, a small black box worn in the removable cast walker that measures cast activity.

Study participants must also wear a smart textiles shirt which measures the wearer's activity.

By combining data gathered from the shirt and the cast sensor, researchers are able to evaluate whether the patient is actually wearing the footwear as prescribed.

"If you forget to wear the removable cast walker, the sensor alerts a watch you are wearing," said Dr. Bijan Najafi, a biomedical engineer, in a statement. "The watch will buzz to let the participant know they are not wearing the boot."

Half of the study group will wear the technology as described, while the other half will wear the sensor and receive an informational DVD on the importance of wearing the prescribed footwear. The two methods will be compared to determine which has the greater impact.

Edited by Braden Becker

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