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OHSU Studies Of Technology For Healthy Aging Get Boost

Intel grant helps widen investigation of monitoring technology that could become new products

Oregon Health & Science University, with help from Intel Corp., is moving into the next phase of a research program developing and testing new technologies to address the challenge of aging successfully.

OHSU's Oregon Center for Aging & Technology (ORCATECH) is the first funded under a new program of Intel's Digital Health Group called the Behavioral Assessment and Intervention Commons, or BAIC. The academic-industrial alliance, worth about $1 million over the next year for ORCATECH, is aimed at initiating and accelerating research into behavioral markers of disease, such as changes in walking and performance on computer games, that eventually translate into health-related products and services.

ORCATECH director Jeffrey Kaye, M.D., in the Department of Neurology at the School of Medicine and the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the School of Science and Engineering, said the work with Intel will shore up a new model of evidence-based behavioral assessment that's been under development the last two years through ORCATECH.

ORCATECH, an interdisciplinary center at OHSU supported since 2004 by the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, focuses on the development and translation of basic social, behavioral and biological knowledge about aging independently using state-of-the-art technology and engineering. Its goal is to use unobtrusive, continuous, scaleable technologies to further evidence-based aging research and assure successful aging by helping elders retain independence, detecting early physical and mental decline, and helping caregivers such as family members provide the best possible, economically feasible care.

"This program is an important complement to our NIH-based studies of aging health outcomes, in that it will allow us to make significant progress in developing continuous assessment and in-home technologies that have clinical relevance," said Tamara Hayes, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering, OHSU School of Science and Engineering, and the BAIC project's lead investigator. "Because of our complementary blend of clinical, basic science and engineering researchers, ORCATECH is particularly well poised to lead this field of research."

The BAIC represents not only a novel approach to care and to developing new scientific insights, but also a new form of academic and industry collaboration. It builds upon a seed grant awarded in 2002 by the Intel Research Council to ORCATECH investigator Misha Pavel, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering, OHSU School of Science & Engineering.

"Intel researchers have been working with OHSU from the onset to help invent and grow the field of behavioral markers," said Eric Dishman, general manager for Intel Health Research and Innovation. "The result is a unique melding of biomedicine, social science and technology employed in a new suite of innovative devices that will change the way patients are assessed for cognitive function and mobility. Long term, we hope these systems help prevent the loss of independence among seniors."

OHSU President Joseph E. Robertson Jr., M.D., M.B.A., said the work between Intel and the biomedical engineering and neurology faculty at OHSU's schools of Medicine and Science & Engineering reflects the power of coupling engineers with biomedical innovations.

"It offers a new model for OHSU's community partnerships and working with the region's high-technology leaders to improve the quality of care for the people of Oregon and beyond," he said.

The backbone of the BAIC effort is a "living laboratory," where the new monitoring technologies will be tested. This network of 20 to 30 elder-inhabited residences throughout the Portland area will be outfitted with a basic set of devices for continuous, remote assessment of activity and computer use, in which fluctuations can mean problems with cognition and mobility.

OHSU researchers will recruit participants ages 65 and older who live independently, without need for in-home nursing care or help with daily activities. Their homes will be outfitted with a suite of sensors for detecting aspects of daily living such as moving through the home, patterns of disrupted sleep, and regularity of medication-taking. In addition, the elders will carry devices to unobtrusively collect data about how their activity outside the home relates to their activity in the home.

If subjects are computer users, they may be asked to allow a computer monitoring system to collect data on their typing speed, the time they spend in applications, mouse movement activity and performance on research versions of computer games, such as FreeCell.

"Our recent preliminary studies have demonstrated the potential of these approaches to tracking cognitive performance," said Pavel, director of ORCATECH's Point of Care Lab, where many of these devices are developed and tested prior to their deployment in homes. "We foresee that further refinements of these methods will allow us to intervene and help elders maintain their cognitive abilities, much as physical exercise helps to maintain physical condition."

ORCATECH scientists in July presented research showing that a research version of FreeCell, a Solitaire-like computer game, when adapted with cognitive performance assessment algorithms, may distinguish between seniors with memory problems and cognitively healthy seniors. Another National Institute on Aging-funded project found that continuous, unobtrusive monitoring of in-home activity using the motion and door sensors may be a reliable way of assessing changes in motor behaviors that can occur with changes in memory.

"The growing convergence of in-home monitoring technologies, telemedicine and ubiquitous computing provides an opportunity to transform the outpatient model of clinical research such that data may be collected continuously, in real time, in a person's natural environment and securely transferred to investigators and research databases," said Daniel Dorsa, Ph.D., OHSU vice president for research.

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