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PhysIQ and Purdue University launch study to develop algorithms for detecting earliest signs of COVID-19 from biometric smartwatch data

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Certain changes in a person’s heart and breathing rates could precede symptoms of COVID-19, an increasing number of studies suggests.

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Purdue University researchers are helping to develop physIQ software that could indicate that a person should get tested for COVID-19 by detecting specific changes in heart and breathing rates while the person wears a smartwatch. Pictured: Jennifer Anderson, Ph.D. student, Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)

Purdue University researchers have begun a study that would help determine if continuously collected biometric smartwatch data could be used to reliably and accurately detect these signs early, which could indicate that a potentially asymptomatic user should get tested for COVID-19.

Data from the study will inform new algorithms to be developed by physIQ, a Purdue-affiliated digital health technology company based in Chicago. The company has support from the Purdue Research Foundation’s Foundry Investment Fund.

Smartwatches on the market already collect a wide range of physiologic data, but incorporating metrics such as heart rate, heart rate variability and respiration rate that may help detect COVID-19 at the earliest stages will take more research, studies by companies such as Fitbit have stated.

Although smartwatch-like devices are not currently substitutes for gold-standard diagnostic tests used in clinics and hospitals, some wearable devices are starting to serve as tools for helping a clinician make a diagnosis.

“There won’t be a point where a smartwatch can tell you that you’re COVID-19 positive, but it could potentially say, ‘Within the next couple of days, you might be getting sick and should go get tested,’” said Craig Goergen, Purdue’s Leslie A. Geddes Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering.

Previous studies have shown that viral infections increase resting heart and respiration rates and decrease heart rate variability