We write about wearables of all sorts. We’ve covered wearables to track steps, check heart rates, monitor breathing rates, measure blood glucose levels, and even record ECGs. Depending on how far you push the definition of a wearable, the field of devices and applications can get wide indeed. One important application is helping cancer patients manage their pain. We covered work at the University of British Columbia developing a magnetic drug implant, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s research in the use of virtual reality (VR) for pain management.

UVA engineers and clinicians with the University of Virginia School of Nursing are developing a smart health sensing system for patients to use at home to monitor, predict, and manage cancer pain. UVA’s Behavioral and Environmental Sensing and Intervention for Cancer (BESI-C) system has three physical component categories: two smart watches, Bluetooth activity tracking sensors, and environmental room sensors to monitor light, noise, temperature, and barometric pressure.

The patient and a primary family caregiver each wear the smartwatches. The patient and caregiver note and describe pain events with a custom smartwatch app. Scientists at the School of Nursing analyze 10-14 days of data from the mobile app and the room and activity sensors. In this early development feasibility phase of BESI-C, the researchers look for patterns of activity and environmental factors that correspond to patient pain and/or caregiver distress. The researchers want to understand how both patients and caregivers anticipate, experience, and manage the patient’s cancer pain.

Cancer pain experiences are unique, according to UVA nurse scientist and assistant professor Virginia LeBaron. The BESI-C system design goal is learn the pain fingerprint or “digital phenotype” of the patient and caregiver’s pain shared experience. By understanding the events and nuances of the pain fingerprint, clinical teams hope to develop personalized interventions and targeted therapies for greater pain relief. Data shared with patients and family caregivers in all steps of the process can also help them understand and manage the symptoms and the appropriate home care.

UVA received a grant from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Nursing Research to expand the scope of the BESI-C research. LeBaron and the UVA team plan to increase BESI-C deployments. The team will use additional metrics to learn more about how to use patient pain fingerprints. The end goal is to use BESI-C to empower patients and caregivers to anticipate, manage, and even head off cancer pain episodes at home.