Monitoring Vest to Help Understand Asthma

Researchers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have developed a sensor that will constantly monitor the air in the vicinity of asthma patients. Analysis of the data collected by the sensor will hopefully help scientists understand the causes of asthma attacks. The light weight sensor is carried in the pockets of a light vest, and is designed to take measurements every two minutes. The team hopes that by gathering data regarding patients’ surroundings during an attack, they will be able to better understand the causes for the attacks.
Luis Somoza, a summer intern at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, models the sensor vest that continuously monitors the air around persons prone to asthma attacks for exposure to environmental stimuli. (Credit: Georgia TechGary Meek) 
Luis Somoza, a summer intern
at the Georgia Tech Research
Institute, models the sensor vest
that continuously monitors the
air around persons prone to
asthma attacks for exposure
to environmental stimuli
(Credit: Georgia TechGary Meek)

An asthma attack is a situation in which one’s lungs overreact to environmental stimuli, resulting in chest tightness or breathlessness. It is not clear exactly what triggers the attack, and the sensor has been developed in order to help shed light on this mystery. By continuously monitoring the chemicals and the atmospheric conditions to which the patient is exposed, the triggering stimulus may be found. 

The sensor measures the amounts of certain chemicals and some environmental conditions in the air surrounding the patient. More specifically, it is designed to measure the amount of formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide, and to keep track of the air’s temperature, relative humidity, and total volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are gases emitted from materials such as paint, cleaning supplies, building materials, etc. Besides these specific compounds, the sensor constantly monitors airborne particles that can be analyzed in the lab after an asthma attack takes place. Using these measurements, scientists may achieve a better understanding of the causes of asthma.  

A sensor system continuously monitors the air around persons prone to asthma attacks. Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute hope the system helps them better understand the causes of asthma attacks. (Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek) 
A sensor system continuously monitors
the air around persons prone to asthma
attacks. Researchers at the Georgia Tech
Research Institute hope the system
helps them better understand the causes
of asthma attacks
(Credit: Georgia Tech Gary Meek)

The sensor weighs less than one pound and is already in use by several volunteers. The GTRI team is working on reducing the sensor’s size so it will easier to carry. The scientists also plan to increase the amount of volunteers, in order to learn about the disease via a more varied demographic sample group. By analyzing the data the team hopes to improve their understanding of the causes of asthma attacks in both children and adults, and then find new ways to prevent the occurrence of the attacks. 

The development of the sensor used in this research was previously covered in a TFOT article. TFOT also covered a pen-like sensor, which can rapidly detect biowarfare agents on the battlefield

More information on the research project can be found on the GTRI news page.