Researchers Eye Tech Wearables As COVID-19 Early Warning System

Researchers work at the special techniques laboratory where a genetic test was developed to diagnose the new coronavirus, COVID-19, at Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 28, 2020. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP.


Can your Fitbit or Apple Watch detect a coronavirus infection before the onset of symptoms?

Researchers are increasingly looking at these devices and other such wearables as a possible early warning system for the deadly virus.

Last month, scientists at the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute said they had created a digital platform that can detect COVID-19 symptoms up to three days before they show up using the Oura ring, a wearable fitness and activity tracker.

An app developed by the researchers uses artificial intelligence to forecast the onset of COVID-19 related symptoms such as fever, coughing, breathing difficulties and fatigue, with over 90 percent accuracy, according to the university.

The researchers said the system could offer clues of infection in people not yet showing symptoms — helping address one of the problems in detection and containment of the deadly outbreak.

Separately, Scripps Research Institute has enrolled more than 30,000 people — and aims for much more — in a similar study aiming to use wearables to find “presymptomatic” and asymptomatic people with COVID-19.

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Scripps researchers had already previously demonstrated the value of wearables in predicting influenza in a study published in January in the British journal The Lancet.

Early indications suggest the devices “have the potential to identify people who are presymptomatic but still infectious,” said Jennifer Radin, a Scripps epidemiologist leading the research.

– Volunteers being sought –

Radin told an online conference discussing the research that wearables are detecting “subtle changes that indicate you are coming down with a viral illness” before the onset of symptoms.

Scripps researchers say they hope to show that wearables data may be more reliable than temperature checks.

“Forty percent of people who come down with COVID don’t have a fever,” Radin said. “This is something that can be used to screen people that’s better than a temperature check.”

Resting heart rate, for example, is a good indicator because it is normally consistent before an infection, and can be accurately measured by most wearables.

“We see these changes (in heart rate) four days before someone starts to develop a fever,” Radin said.

Eric Topol, director of the Scripps institute, said the idea of using wearables is promising because “over 100 million Americans have a smart watch or fitness band” which can provide key data for researchers, but that getting good results “is contingent on getting large numbers” to opt into the studies.

California health tech startup Evidation meanwhile has begun a project to produce an early warning algorithm from wearables worn by 300 people at high risk of contracting coronavirus, with funding from the US government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Luca Foschini, Evidation’s co-founder and chief data scientist, said the research aims “to more effectively identify when and where people may contract COVID-19, and can potentially enable real-time interventions to limit spread and monitor outcomes.”

A similar research effort is underway in Germany.

– From recreation to medicine –

The latest research highlights how some wearable devices — developed initially for fitness and recreation uses — may be adapted for important medical research.

Apple has begun studies on how its smartwatch can detect heart problems. And Fitbit has been working with some 500 different projects for research on cancer, diabetes, respiratory and other health issues.

Scientists say wearables can provide data on body temperature, heart and respiratory rates, sleep and activity patterns and other indicators which can be used as diagnostic tools.

Researchers from Stanford University announced plans in April to participate in research on wearables, in collaboration with Scripps, for COVID-19 and other diseases.

“Smartwatches and other wearables make many, many measurements per day — at least 250,000, which is what makes them such powerful monitoring devices,” said Michael Snyder, chair of genetics at Stanford School of Medicine.

Snyder said these devices may alert users when their heart rate, skin temperature or some other part of their physiology signals of infection or another ailment.

“You might wonder, ‘Are these sniffles allergies, or am I getting sick?’ These algorithms could help people determine if they should stay home in case their body is fighting off an infection,” Snyder said.


Scientists Spot Black Hole So Huge It ‘Shouldn’t Even Exist’ In Our Galaxy

This handout received from the Beijing Planetarium via the China Academy of Sciences on November 26, 2019 shows a rendering by artist Yu Jingchuan of the accretion of gas onto a stellar black hole from its blue companion star, through a truncated accretion disk. Astronomers have discovered a black hole in the Milky Way so huge that it challenges existing models of how stars evolve, researchers announced on November 28. PHOTO: Yu Jingchuan / Beijing Planetarium via the China Academy of Sciences / AFP


Astronomers have discovered a black hole in the Milky Way so huge that it challenges existing models of how stars evolve, researchers said Thursday.

LB-1 is 15,000 light years from Earth and has a mass 70 times greater than the Sun, according to the journal Nature.

The Milky Way is estimated to contain 100 million stellar black holes but LB-1 is twice as massive as anything scientists thought possible, said Liu Jifeng, a National Astronomical Observatory of China professor who led the research.

“Black holes of such mass should not even exist in our galaxy, according to most of the current models of stellar evolution,” he added.

Scientists generally believe that there are two types of black holes.

The more common stellar black holes — up to 20 times more massive than the Sun — form when the centre of a very big star collapses in on itself.

Supermassive black holes are at least a million times bigger than the Sun and their origins are uncertain.

But researchers believed that typical stars in the Milky Way shed most of their gas through stellar winds, preventing the emergence of a black hole the size of LB-1, Liu said.

“Now theorists will have to take up the challenge of explaining its formation,” he said in a statement.

 ‘New kind’ of black hole

Astronomers are still only beginning to grasp “the abundance of black holes and the mechanisms by which they form,” David Reitze, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) who was not involved in the discovery, told AFP.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory at Caltech, overseen by Reitze, had previously detected ripples in spacetime that suggested the possibility of black holes in distant galaxies that were much bigger than what was thought possible.

Stellar black holes are usually formed in the aftermath of supernova explosions, a phenomenon that occurs when extremely large stars burn out at the end of their lives.

LB-1’s large mass falls into a range “known as the ‘pair instability gap’ where supernovae should not have produced it”, Reitze said.

“That means that this is a new kind a black hole, formed by another physical mechanism!”

 100 million black holes

LB-1 was discovered by an international team of scientists using China’s sophisticated LAMOST telescope.

Additional images from two of the world’s largest optical telescopes — Spain’s Gran Telescopio Canarias and the Keck I telescope in the United States — confirmed the size of LB-1, which the National Astronomical Observatory of China said was “nothing short of fantastic”.

Scientists have tended to find black holes by detecting the X-rays they emit.

But this method has limited usefulness because only a small number of black hole systems where the companion star orbits very close to the black hole would emit detectable X-rays, Liu said at a press conference.

Instead, the team that discovered LB-1 tracked the movements of “huge numbers of stars over a long period of time”, before identifying LB-1 based on the motion of its companion star, Liu said.

This method has been used for decades without much success due to the limitations of the available equipment, Liu added.

But LAMOST, constructed between 2001 and 2008 in north China’s Hebei province, allows researchers to detect up to 4,000 stars simultaneously with each exposure, making it one of the world’s most powerful ground-based telescopes.

Liu told AFP the method used to discover LB-1 could help scientists identify many more black holes in the future.

Out of the 100 million black holes believed to exist in our galaxy, Liu said, only 4,000 “can give you X-rays that can be detected by us”.

Ancient Giant ‘Lion’ Discovered In Kenya


A giant lion with enormous fangs that roamed the Kenyan savannah more than 20 million years ago was one of the largest ever meat-eating mammals, researchers said Thursday.

A team unearthed the lower jaw, teeth and other bones of a new species, Simbakubwa kutokaafrika — Swahili for “big African lion”.

They calculated it would have weighed up to 1,500 kilogrammes and could have preyed upon the elephant-like creatures that lived there at the time.

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“Based on its massive teeth, Simbakubwa was a specialised hyper-carnivore that was significantly larger than the modern lion and possibly larger than a polar bear,” said Matthew Borths, from Duke University, who co-led the research with Ohio University.

An artist’s impression of the creature shows a giant big-cat-like hunter with stripey fur and enormous fangs.

The team behind the study, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, said Simbakubwa lived in what is modern-day Kenya around 23 million years ago, a key period in the evolution of carnivorous mammals.

They said the discovery could shed light on how supersized predators and prey evolved over millions of years around the end of the Paleogene epoch — the period where mammals grew from tiny rodents into many diverse species.

World’s Ugliest Pig Spotted In Indonesia

This handout from the Chester Zoo taken with a trap-camera on January 24, 2017 and released on January 5, 2018 shows an endangered Javan warty pig on Indonesia’s Java island. Rare images of the “world’s ugliest pig” have been captured in Indonesia, researchers said on January 5, 2018, offering a window into a little-known species believed to be on the brink of extinction.

Rare images of the “world’s ugliest pig” have been captured in Indonesia, researchers said Friday, offering a window into a little-known species believed to be on the brink of extinction.

The number of endangered Javan warty pigs — males are distinguished by large warts on their faces — has plunged since the early 1980s due to hunting and forest habitat loss, according to the UK-based Chester Zoo.

British and Indonesian researchers laid camera traps in the forests of the Southeast Asian nation’s Java island in the hopes of capturing images of the elusive creature.

Their goal was to get a clearer sense of population levels and find ways to boost conservation of a “highly threatened species”.

“It was even feared that many, if not all, populations had become extinct until their existence was confirmed by the zoo’s cameras,” the zoo said as it released the images.

The research “could eventually be used to establish new protection laws for the species as, currently, they are not protected by Indonesian law”, it added.

The pigs — which are only found on Java — are similar in size to European wild boars but are more slender and have longer heads, the zoo said.

“Males have three pairs of enormous warts on their faces,” said Johanna Rode-Margono, Chester Zoo’s Southeast Asia field programme coordinator.

“It is these characteristics that have led to them being affectionately labelled as ‘the world’s ugliest pig’ but, certainly to us and our researchers, they are rather beautiful and impressive.”