"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

A straightforward pair of earbuds could monitor your brain

Oct. 12, 2023 — What if a pair of sticker-like sensors could turn your earbuds into a strong health monitor that might detect brain or mood disorders and treat them in real time with sound or electrical pulses?

Engineers on the University of California, San Diego are developing flexible sensors sufficiently small to slot in earbuds that may record brain electrical activity and lactate levels in sweat. One day, the sensors could monitor and treat conditions within the here and now by playing sounds or using electrical stimulation to influence brain activity, a brand new kind of therapy called Electroceuticals.

“We can hijack the acoustic signal to manipulate brain states toward more desirable outcomes,” said Gert Cauwenberghs, PhD, a senior engineer involved in the event of the sensors and a professor of bioengineering on the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering. “These things are possible now that we can close the loop between producing sound and measuring brain activity.”

In a study published in NatureBiomedical engineeringThe sensors proved to be as effective as traditional monitoring methods resembling electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets for brain activity and blood samples for lactate levels. However, unlike these methods, the sensors may very well be worn constantly outside the clinic while patients go about their lives.

The sensors are “spring-loaded” to take care of close contact with the ear and covered with a hydrogel film to soak up sweat. You can send data to the earbuds, which then transmit it to a smartphone or laptop via Bluetooth.

Using in-ear devices to watch health is just not latest. But that is the primary time that brain and body sensors have been combined, opening the door to every kind of research and clinical advances.

What could this technology do?

The researchers say this technology may very well be used to diagnose and treat a protracted list of conditions, from brain disorders resembling Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and epilepsy, to mood disorders resembling post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. It could also detect and treat strokes, tinnitus, sleep apnea and traumatic brain injuries.

Much research has examined wearables for distant patient monitoring, but in-ear wearables may very well be particularly useful for conditions that impact the brain. Patients being tested for epilepsy, for instance, may very well be monitored remotely and even wear the sensors at night to detect potentially undetected seizures, said Erik Viirre, MD, PhD, a professor of neuroscience at UCSD who is just not involved within the research was.

In conjunction with the EEG measurements, changes in lactate could provide more clues for a diagnosis. For example, lactate tends to extend after an attack. Higher lactate levels may indicate diabetes or heart disease. And monitoring lactate levels can prove useful in athletic performance.

Perhaps probably the most exciting potential application, nevertheless, is a “closed-circuit system” that may monitor and treat disease robotically and without human intervention. For patients with tinnitus, a ringing within the ears on account of abnormal brain activity, the device could monitor the condition and test different sounds and play those who reduce tinnitus markers, Viirre said.

The technology could treat sleep disorders, cognitive degeneration, panic attacks or chronic pain in the same way – by delivering music, respiration instructions, positive mantras or electrical stimulation and adjusting therapies based on real-time responses.

When are you able to get this technology?

It will likely take years before the device is tested and approved for clinical use, Cauwenberghs said.

But regular people could see in-ear wearables that track similar data sooner as more corporations enter the market Growing market for “hearables” Earbuds that double as health trackers.

The ear is a first-class location, said Cauwenberghs. It's close enough to the brain to get a reading, and other people already wear earbuds for prolonged periods of time. Therefore, the introduction of latest technologies shouldn't be a significant obstacle.

The company NextSense works on an EEG measuring device, and STAT Health recently announced An in-ear device that may track blood flow to the pinnacle and predict fainting spells. Viirre envisions a world through which hearables can record much more biodata resembling hormone levels, blood sugar and stress markers.

“Smartwatches can provide a lot of data, but in some ways they are very limited,” Cauwenberghs said. “Doctors don’t use it; it's more like a gadget.” Adding closed-loop technology could “make the difference between being able to see the weather forecast and being able to do something about the hurricane.”

“With this closed loop of biofeedback and neurofeedback, our vision goes far beyond monitoring,” he said.