Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco are launching a project called Health eHeart Study that will use smartphone apps, sensors and other devices to collect information from a pool of one million participants – all in real time. Jeffrey Olgin, chief of cardiology at UCSF said the project aims to be “a large-scale digital version of the Framingham Heart Study” – the longest-running study of the causes of cardiovascular disease. Dr. Olgin and his colleagues hope their research will be able to predict the development of heart disease in people who don’t yet have it – and slow the progression among people who do.

The study will enable participants to check their blood pressure several times a day using a Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure cuff that sends readings via a smartphone to the study database. By collecting blood pressure at various times, and during different activities, researchers believe long-term follow-up can show whether participants are at a high risk for heart trouble, and what interventions could reduce the risk. The Heart eHeart researchers also hope to gain new understanding of atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that affects more than three million Americans.

There are some hitches to this huge study, including how to handle the task of collecting data from so many people. Also, participants must provide their own smartphone to be in the study – an issue for those who would like to be in it, but can’t afford one.

One study participant, Heidi Dohse, 49, of New York City found out she had a congenital heart defect when she was 18 years old – that left her dependent on a pacemaker. Recently, she had the pacemaker replaced which gave her “a new set of heartbeats.” Her AliveCor device, a sensor that clips on the back of her iPhone let’s her take her own electrocardiograms, which were normal, giving her some reassurance. “Instead of waiting for my doctor to determine when I need care, I feel like it makes me more accountable,”  she said. Other GPS-enabled phones may compel participants to document their behaviors – such as recording whether a person is at a farmer’s market, or a fast-food restaurant!     3/25/13


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