Wearable. Edible. Huggable. #WIREDHEALTH

This week we hand over to regular blogger Alex Abel – who recently returned from London’s WIRED Health.

Earlier this year, in a blog post for the World Economic Foundation, Jamie Ferguson said:

“The so-called revolution in digital health has been slow moving for many years, more like an undercurrent. But, lately it has become a tide, with all stakeholders fully invested and ready to catch the wave.”

We were certainly riding the face of that wave at London’s WIRED Health.

Main Stage talks took place in the comfortable Brunei Auditorium.

Main Stage talks took place in the comfortable Brunei Auditorium, hosted by editor David Rowan and science editor João Medeiros.

This inaugural event was held at the Royal College of General Practitioners on 29 April, and focused on innovation in the health sector.

Unsurprisingly, how we can collect, analyse, and benefit from our individual health data dominated discussion at both the Main Stage talks hosted by David Rowan, and the parallel Bupa Startup Stage where a range of companies gave 9-minute pitches to a panel of judges.

Sensors and self-monitoring

Maneesh’s wearable counts step, but also notifies him of tube delays. Image via @ManeeshJuneja

Maneesh’s wearable counts step, but also notifies him of tube delays. Image via @ManeeshJuneja

With the vast array of wearable sensors available (Amazon.com even launched a wearable tech store last month), we can now keep track of every waking (and sleeping) moment of our lives. My friend Jing noted that there seemed to be so many health-tracking devices that he couldn’t quite see the need for all of them. How many, and what kinds of tools, do we really need? But Sonny Vu, founder of Misfit Wearables, more than adequately addressed this common question with a nice analogy:

“I’ve heard people say, oh wearables, that’s a really crowded space. No. That’s like saying in 1997 that the Internet is really crowded because there’s a lot of websites.”

Aside from keeping check on general health, sensors have huge potential to aid the management of chronic disease as people with chronic conditions are already self-managing 8700 hours a year, and only 3 hours a year with their clinician. Andrew Thompson explained that when a patient swallows a Proteus pill, it connects and communicates with their mobile phone, letting them know if they are responding properly to the medication. The sensor in this smart pill is made of silicon, copper, and magnesium – designed to be cheaply and easily embedded into any product. Andrew hopes that ‘digital pills’ will enable patients and doctors to better monitor and treat chronic conditions without the need for endless physical checkups.

From management of complex chronic disease to prediction… Jack Kreindler of the CHHP has been using expensive biosensor technology for a very long time, helping David Walliams swim the length of the Thames recently, but he explained that self-tracking devices used by elite athletes can now be used to predict major health problems, reducing unnecessary hospital admissions.

Jing and I meet Teddy the Guardian, a huggable sensor for children.

Jing and I meet Teddy the Guardian, a huggable sensor for children.

A particular favourite of mine from the Startup Stage was Teddy the Guardian. Certainly the cuddliest sensor tech around, Teddy can measure a child’s temperature, heart rate, and oxygen levels through his ‘smart paws’ in about six seconds. When Teddy’s owner checks their pulse, the bear’s LED heart beats at the same rate, a soothing effect intended to create a bond between child and bear. Teddy data is transmitted in real-time to a mobile app where data is analysed, managed, and downloaded by medical staff and parents.

Apps, wearables, and even edibles empower people to manage their own health and wellness, but we need to aid and guide the take up and use of these devices. As Sir Mark Walport explained, “Science without the social science will not reach its maximum”. The main message of the day can be nicely summed up by the content of one slide, which read: Sensor technology + big data + expert support = success. The challenge becomes how we can best harness our data for personal and global health purposes, and how to secure this expert support when and where it is required.

“We want indiscriminate, continuous, multi-sourced data streams to really realise the global health impact and great potential of digital health.” – Leslie Saxon

And the winner is…

Startup Stage winner was Peter Hames for his novel insomnia-fighting CBT app Sleepio. Their placebo-controlled RCT was published in Sleep in 2012, showing Sleepio users had improved sleep efficiency compared with the online placebo course, and those who continued with usual treatment for insomnia.

Fun fact of the day

Catherine Mohr (Intuitive Surgical) on stage. The dog's nose is a key talking point.

Catherine Mohr (Intuitive Surgical) on stage. The dog’s nose is a key talking point.

A dog’s nose is an amazing diagnostic tool. Dogs can detect ovarian cancer with 90% accuracy. Billy Boyle, Co-founder of the exciting Owlstone Nanotech, told us how this keen chemical analysis has led to their creation of diagnostic sensors that can ‘sniff out’ a range of cancers.

Sharp statistics

One in three couples that have IVF could conceive naturally (Claire Hooper, DuoFertility).

Someone in the world develops Alzheimer’s disease every 6 seconds (Elli Kaplan, Neurotrack Technologies).

Most inspiring statement

“Never under-estimate your ability to make a difference.” – Elli Kaplan

Visit #WIREDHEALTH in 2015

WIRED Health's partner Cisco showcase their Internet of Everything #TOMORROWstartshere

WIRED Health’s partner Cisco showcase their Internet of Everything.

There were twenty-two incredible talks in one day, but every speaker captivated me and made me want to learn more about their work.

After a thoroughly enjoyable day at the RCGP, I was inspired to walk the five miles home, monitoring my heart rate the old fashioned way because I’m a bit short on wearables.

The talks are now available to watch via the WIRED UK YouTube Channel.

WIRED Health will be returning to London next year, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone.

Many thanks to João Medeiros for inviting me, and curating such a wonderful programme. Congratulations to the entire organising team, and best of luck for 2015!


Alexandra Abel is a graduate from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music. She has a keen interest in both Global Health and Performing Arts. From September, she will be a medical student at Hull York Medical School.

Join her on twitter @alexandraabel

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