Your temperature, your blood pressure, and your heartbeat are just a few of the many biological markers or “biomarkers,” that define your physical health. Scientists and researchers have long relied on comprehensive biomarkers to measure the effects of investigational drugs during clinical trials and assess the health of patients.
Now, in the unprecedented area of COVID-19, it is digital biomarkers that have the potential to track and contain the pandemic. Thanks to advanced diagnostic technologies, it’s never been easier to track the nearly imperceptible changes and patterns within a person’s vital signs and activity data.
How Can Digital Biomarkers Support Fight Against Coronavirus?
Digital biomarkers are “objective, quantifiable physiological and behavior data that are collected and measured by means of digital devices.”
Unlike traditional biomarkers, digital biomarkers are easily obtained through digital devices that people already own and use, including cell phones, watches, and implants. This allows the data to be captured on an ongoing basis and quickly recorded for meaningful, objective review.
The phenomenon of digital biomarkers began years before the coronavirus crisis began, but the pandemic has pushed digital biomarkers into the spotlight. Never before have digital biomarker experts been faced with such a global opportunity to utilize their technologies to advance human health.
The U.S Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), is working with Empatica to help prove wearable sensors and algorithms can help to control the coronavirus pandemic.
“We anticipate that access to real-time and actionable health information will empower people to seek medical advice and care sooner, or to adopt behavioral changes such as temporary self-isolation that can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and similar infections,” BARDA’s acting director, Gary Disbrow, said in a statement.
Empatica and BARDA aren’t the only ones eagerly exploring the potential of digital biomarkers. NYU and Duke University are also getting involved.
NYU Develops COVID-19 Biomarker App
The New York University College of Dentistry created a mobile app that produces a COVID-19 “severity score” for patients. The app uses blood test biomarkers and data obtained through artificial intelligence to determine each severity score.
As NYU’s app launches this summer, researchers hope it can be integrated with hospital systems to give clinicians an additional assessment tool to support health care decisions.
Duke University Expands CovIdentify Project
Researchers at Duke University have also launched a digital biomarker project called CovIdentify. It was first launched in April to explore how data collected by smartphones, Apple watches, and other devices could identify signs of COVID-19 infection in users.
In particular, CovIdentify focused on biometric information such as oxygen levels, sleep schedules, heart rate, and activity levels. Now the Duke team plans to launch an iOS application to track the digital biomarkers and send alerts of potential COVID-19 infections.
“Our team recognized that COVID-19 was going to be a long-term health care problem, and we knew that wearable devices and smartphones would be a good way to develop digital biomarkers that could determine a COVID-19 infection,” said project leader Ryan Shaw.
“One of our goals is to expand our data collection capabilities, which will increase our ability to differentiate the COVID-19 infection from other illnesses. This differentiation is going to be key, as we expect to see waves of resurgence pop up as the country opens back up, and some of these flare-ups may coincide with flu season.”