Senior Data Science: Safe Aging with SPHERE Hosted By DrivenData

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Obesity, depression, stroke, falls, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal disease are some of the biggest health issues and fastest-rising categories of healthcare costs. The associated expenditure is widely regarded as unsustainable and the impact on quality of life is felt by millions of people in the UK each day. The vision of the SPHERE IRC is not to develop fundamentally-new sensors for individual health conditions but rather to impact all these healthcare needs simultaneously through data-fusion and pattern-recognition from a common platform of non-medical/environmental sensors at home. The system will be general-purpose, low-cost and scalable. Sensors will be entirely passive, requiring no action by the user and hence suitable for all patients including the most vulnerable. A central hypothesis is that deviations from a user’s established pattern of behaviour in their own home have particular, unexploited, diagnostic value.

The SPHERE Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC) has been developed with clinicians, social workers and clinical scientists from internationally recognised institutes including the Bristol Heart Institute, Southampton’s Rehabilitation and Health Technologies Group, the NIHR Biomedical Research Unit in Diet and Nutrition and the Orthopaedic Surgery Group at Southmead hospital in Bristol. United by a shared vision, the IRC also includes a local authority that is a UK leader in the field of “Smart Cities” (Bristol City Council, BCC), a local charity with an impressive track record of community-based technology pilots (Knowle West Media Centre, KWMC) and a unique longitudinal study (the world-renowned Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a.k.a. “The Children of the Nineties”). SPHERE draws upon expertise from the UK’s leading groups in Communications, Machine Vision, Cybernetics, Data Mining and Energy Harvesting, and from two corporations with world-class reputations for research and development (IBM, Toshiba).

Working hand-in-hand with the local community through BCC and its partners at KWMC, SPHERE is developing practical, user-accepted technologies and pilot systems in a large number of homes over extended periods of time. Leading clinicians in Heart Surgery, Orthopaedics, Stroke and Parkinson’s Disease, and recognised authorities on Depression and Obesity are embedded within the IRC.

The proposal, led by the University of Bristol in partnership with Reading and Southampton was funded in full (£12M) and also attracted additional investment from the Universities and industry of £3M. The total resource of £15M is supporting a team of mostly postdoctoral researchers (with some postgraduate students). In total, including the academic co-investigators actively managing elements of the research programme, SPHERE comprises approximately 60 people.

The Technology

SPHERE is developing a number of different sensors that will combine to build a picture of how we live in our homes. This information can then be used to spot issues that might indicate a medical or well-being problem.

The technology could help in the following ways:

  1. Predict falls and detect strokes so that help may be summoned
  2. Analyse eating behaviour - including whether people are taking prescribed medication
  3. Detect periods of depression or anxiety and intervene using a computer based therapy

The Approach

SPHERE will work with clinicians, engineers, designers and social care professionals as well as members of the public to develop these sensor technologies.

We want to make sure the technology is:

  1. Acceptable in people's homes
  2. Solves real healthcare problems in a cost effective way
  3. The project generates knowledge that will change clinical practice (this will be achieved by focusing on real-world technologies that can be shown working in a large number of local homes during the life of the project).