Worcester Polytechnic team lands $1.2M for 'sugar' app

An interdisciplinary research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has received a $1.2 million award from the National Science Foundation to develop a smart phone application to help people with advanced diabetes and foot ulcers better manage their disease.

The four-year project will link a smart phone, glucose meter and scale.

The work will be organized through WPI's Healthcare Delivery Institute (HDI) in collaboration with diabetes and wound care specialists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The first two years of the project are slated for technology research and development, leading to a prototype for refinement. If the development phase proceeds as planned, the second two years of the project will test the new application in a clinical trial at UMass Medical School.

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The proposed application, currently dubbed "sugar" would be installed on a smart phone and integrated wirelessly with a personal glucose meter and scale. The application would track and archive blood sugar levels and weight, and use the phone's camera to capture and analyze images of lesions known as foot ulcers, which are potentially dangerous complications that affect people with advanced, uncontrolled diabetes.

"This is an ambitious project that we hope will create a useful tool for people who are dealing with advanced diabetes," said Diane Strong, one of the project's leaders and a professor in WPI's School of Business and a health information technology expert. "We appreciate the National Science Foundation's support for our approach to combine technology development and clinical expertise into a unified team to address this challenge."

The application will have embedded data and algorithms drawn from clinical experience that will prompt patients with specific messages based on their weight and blood sugar readings over time. It will also track the progress of a patient's foot ulcers, which are often caused by neuropathy and reduced circulation to the extremities, common complications of advanced diabetes.

Left untreated, foot ulcers can develop into serious infections and lead to amputation. According to the American Diabetes Association, some 70,000 people with diabetes have lower-limb amputations each year, accounting for more than 60 percent of all non-traumatic lower-limb amputations in the United States. Nearly 80 percent of foot and leg amputations in patients with diabetes are complications from foot ulcers.

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