Researchers develop a smart T-shirt that monitors your breathing in real time

A study published in Sensors showed that a recently developed smart T-shirt, designed to provide real-time readings of the wearer’s breathing rate, may have potential implications in diagnosing respiratory conditions. The smart T-shirt was created by researchers at Université Laval’s Faculty of Science and Engineering and its Center for Optics, Photonics, and Lasers in Quebec, Canada. According to the researchers, the smart t-shirt does not contain any wires, electrodes, or sensors attached to the body. Instead, the new technology makes use of an antenna sewn into the shirt at chest level. The antenna is made of hollow optical fiber and is coated with a thin layer of silver on its inner surface. According to the research team, the smart fiber in the T-shirt senses changes in both thorax circumference and the volume of air in the lungs when the wearer inhales.

“The antenna does double duty, sensing and transmitting the signals created by respiratory movements. The data can be sent to the user’s smartphone or a nearby computer. These changes modify some of the resonant frequency of the antenna. That’s why the T shirt doesn’t need to be tight or in direct contact with the wearer’s skin. The oscillations that occur with each breath are enough for the fiber to sense the user’s respiratory rate,” said lead researcher Professor Younes Messaddeq. She currently serves as a professor at Université  Laval and holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Photonic Innovations.

The research team noted that a layer of polymer protects the antenna against the environment. In order to test the smart T-shirt’s durability, the research team proceeded to wash the item numerous times. “After 20 washes, the antenna had withstood the water and detergent and was still in good working condition. The T-shirt is really comfortable and doesn’t inhibit the subject’s natural movements. Our tests show that the data captured by the shirt is reliable, whether the user is lying down, sitting, standing or moving around,” Professor Messaddeq added.

Potential use in respiratory disease diagnosis, monitoring

The researchers touted that the new smart T-shirt may lead to the production of clothing that can be used to monitor patients with certain respiratory conditions including asthma, sleep apnea, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which continue to be a huge burden for the global population.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 235 million people around the world suffer from asthma. The respiratory disease remains to be the most common chronic disease among children worldwide. The WHO also revealed that the disease continues to be prevalent in all countries regardless of level of development. More than 80 percent of asthma deaths occur in low- and middle-income nations, the organization added. According to the WHO, the condition may potentially restrict a person’s activities for a lifetime.

Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also showed that 18.4 million adults and 6.2 million children in the U.S. currently suffer from asthma. According to the CDC, more than six percent of all office-based physician visit were associated with asthma. The agency also noted that 1.6 million emergency room visits in the U.S. were tied to asthma. More than 3,600 Americans died of asthma in 2014 alone, the CDC added.

On the other hand, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was found to affect up to 64 million people worldwide. According to the WHO, the disease accounted for up to three million deaths around the world. The organization projected that the disease will become the third leading cause of death around the world by 2030. Indoor and outdoor air pollution, occupational exposure to certain chemicals and irritants and tobacco smoking were among the main risk factors for the disease, the WHO added.

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