Launched Jessilyn Dunn, by an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, the CovIdentify study was set up so that smartphones, FitBits, Apple Watches and other devices can be employed to monitor for early signs of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic. The study is simple and straightforward and prospective participants can learn more here.
Funded by Duke, Duke Clinical & Translational Science Institute and MEDX (Duke University’s medical and engineering departments), the study is led by Professor Dunn and Ryan Shaw, associate professor of nursing and director of the Health Innovation Lab. The group will assess information collected by the participant’s health—sleep schedules and oxygen levels to heart rate and more can detect the early lines of SARS-CoV-2, reported Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering.
Dunn and team have been down this path before setting up a study to determine whether the collection of biometric data from wearable devices can indicate if a person was susceptible to various health issues—from diabetes and cardiovascular to whether the participant had an infection. Professor Dunn noted when contemplating the study genesis: “The idea for CovIdentify came to us in early March when we realized that there was going to be an explosion of COVID-19 cases across the United States, and we knew this was going to be a long-term health care problem,” said Dunn. “The team quickly put together a plan to investigate how the data from mobile devices and smartwatches could provide signals of early COVID-19 infection, and if we could predict the severity of infection.”
In addition to professor Dunn and Shaw, colleagues involved with this study include Geoff Ginsburg, MD, the director of Mex (Medicine + Engineering at Duke) and Chris Woods, MD, the associate director of the Duke Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine.
Launched in April, Phase one of CovIdentify involved the participants registering—entering relevant demographics and medical information and thereafter participate in the daily survey. This survey, delivered via text or email, prompts the participant to answer basic questions as to whether they may have been in contact with any individuals that may have the novel coronavirus as well as some general questions about symptoms. The surveys arrive once a day for thirty days of the program and thereafter once a week for two more months. Any survey doesn’t take more than one minute to fill out. All of the data is shared via smartphone or smartwatch.
Ultimately, the study team plans on retrieving 12 months of data historically and 6 months moving forward.
Technologies & Security
For the first month of April, the Fitbit was the only device that could connect to the study. However, the team planned on incorporating the ability to include iOS with an app under development for iPhones—apparently with the ability to pull data from any wearable device that syncs with Apple Health app.
Thereafter the Duke-based study team plans to develop an app for Android and Google users. The Duke team understands the importance of data protection, privacy and security. The actual study application is hosted in a secure Duke server farm—safely behind firewalls.
They report that only study investigators and coordinators have access to study data and the study complies with the system privacy standards of each smartphone or device to ensure that all relevant health data is protected and kept anonymous.
Longer Term Goal
After collecting 12 months of historical data, the team plans to have secured a baseline to help assess the participant’s health over that period of time. Once all of this data is collected, the study team plans on developing and refining their predictive algorithms to detect respiratory infections from the COVID-19 virus. Dunn suspects this information will be quite valuable in helping researchers learn how to detect COVID-19 earlier.
Jessica Dunn, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering
Ryan Shaw, PhD, Elizabeth C. Clipp Term Chair Nursing
Geoff Ginsberg, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine
Chris Woods, MD, Co-Director, Hubert-Yeargan Center for Global Health, Professor, Medicine and Global Health, Chief Infectious Diseases Division, Durham VA Medical Center