Researchers at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) have received Health Research Council (HRC) funding to do a pilot study in which they will trial a portable temperature-sensing technology they developed to detect the early signs of complications of the feet among people with Diabetes 2.
The prototype technology, FootSense, is a low-cost device designed for home-based monitoring, to detect early signs of foot complications.
It does this by measuring asymmetries in temperature. Research shows that differences in temperature between our feet – for example, if the ball of the foot in the left foot is different from the same location in the right foot – is indicative of compromises in blood flow. This can lead to foot ulcers and in severe cases, the need for amputation.
There is no current way to objectively assess temperature differences in our feet.
The novel device was originally developed by Dr Samitha Elvitigala as an undergraduate student in Sri Lanka. He is one of a team led by Associate Professor Suranga Nanayakkara who moved to New Zealand from Singapore in 2018, to establish the Augmented Human Lab at the ABI.
FootSense has been improved since its earlier iteration to be more user-friendly. Patients stand on a platform that scans and maps subtle temperature differences.
The Research Activation Grant funding from the HRC will enable the researchers to trial the device by working with a podiatry clinic in Auckland, and with real patients.
“Patients who come to the clinic will get their feet scanned, and we can use that data to improve the efficacy of the device,” says Dr Elvitigala. “The next step would be thinking about how we can make them available - how to manufacture them in an affordable way.”
Type 2 diabetes currently affects 9.3 percent of the world’s adult population and according to the Diabetes Register in 2020, 8.1 percent of the New Zealand adult population. According to the New Zealand Medical Journal and the Ministry of Health, Māori are 65% more likely to undergo major amputation.
Regular foot checking is crucial in people with Diabetes 2, but people’s ability to get their feet checked depends on easy access to healthcare and support. It also often means a lot of travelling, which can be difficult for those with diabetes, particularly those at risk of or suffering from foot complications.
The research, led by Associate Professor Nanayakkara, will be done in collaboration with Professor John Windsor and Associate Professor Rinki Murphy, both of the School of Medicine at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University.
Dr Elvitigala defended his PhD done with the Augmented Human Lab in July, titled “Uncovering the Potential of the Foot for Novel I/O [Input Output] Interfaces”. He developed several technologies for the feet for his thesis.
That included GymSoles, a smart-insole that provides real-time feedback about the centre of pressure to help people do their exercise (such as squats and weigh-lifting exercises) correctly, and StressFoot, designed to detect stress through foot pressure and foot motion.
The Lab has a human-centric approach to technologies, aimed at supporting health and wellbeing. “We hope in the long run, our FootSense device, will improve health equity in New Zealand, by allowing for at-home monitoring that will in turn allow for early intervention,” says Dr Elvitigala. “And avoid the need the hospitalisation and surgery.”