IBD Program Is Repurposed to Track Pandemic and Its Effects

IBD Program Is Repurposed to Track Pandemic and Its Effects

  • A study called Warrior Watch is designed to assess whether wearable technology can identify COVID-19 infections among Mount Sinai employees prior to development of symptoms and to understand the impacts of the pandemic on their psychological well-being.

  • The technology was repurposed from a program originally designed to help IBD patients.

3 min read

For years, Robert Hirten, MD, has been exploring the potential of wearable technology to help inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City, he saw an opportunity to use this research for the benefit of Mount Sinai Health System staff and physicians on the front lines of the battle.

“It occurred to me that we could adopt these devices to address this global health crisis we were experiencing,” says Dr. Hirten, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Gastroenterology), Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “I reached out to the Mount Sinai COVID Informatics Center, which is a new data science center dedicated to COVID-19 research that has representation from across Mount Sinai, and, together, we developed the Warrior Watch Study.”

Led by Dr. Hirten and Zahi Fayad, PhD, Professor of Radiology (Diagnostic, Molecular, and Interventional), and Medicine (Cardiology), who holds the Lucy G. Moses Professorship in Medical Imaging and Bioengineering, the Warrior Watch Study is designed to assess whether wearable technology can identify COVID-19 infections among Mount Sinai employees prior to development of symptoms and to understand the impacts of the pandemic on their psychological well-being.

Made possible in part by funding from Microsoft, the study is open to Mount Sinai personnel ages 18 and older who have an Apple iPhone and Apple Watch, or who are willing to wear an Apple Watch provided to them for the study. Once enrolled in the study, participants download the Warrior Watch app and complete daily questionnaires that assess their risk of exposure based on factors such as their commute and workplace interactions, as well as a weekly questionnaire about the pandemic-related stress they are experiencing. The Apple Watch captures real-time physiological metrics, such as sleep duration, physical activity, and heart rate variability—a marker of nervous system function—that may predict signs of infection and stress. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, recently singled out Warrior Watch as an app that can make a big difference in people’s lives.

“Heart rate variability has been shown to change prior to the development of other infections, and in our prior work in IBD, we demonstrated changes related to changes in disease activity,” Dr. Hirten says. “Therefore, there is a lot of evidence supporting its evaluation in the setting of COVID-19 in that we would anticipate similar changes to occur prior to this infection or related to psychological stress.”

If so, Dr. Hirten says the finding would enable the development of algorithms that help predict infection and facilitate early interventions that effectively limit spread of the disease. The study is continuing to enroll participants. Dr. Hirten says the plan is to consent 1,000 Mount Sinai employees to generate sufficient data to develop the predictive algorithm and start identifying individuals who are most impacted by pandemic-related stress to ensure they are connected with resilience support and other resources.

“Eventually, we hope to expand the study to the general population to improve patient outcomes,” he says. “There is a real potential for this technology to not only help us during the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also in the management of chronic diseases, such as IBD. At Mount Sinai we are continuing to try to innovate and apply the latest technologies to care for our patients.”

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Robert Hirten, MD

Robert Hirten, MD

Assistant Professor of Medicine (Gastroenterology)

Zahi Fayad, PhD

Zahi Fayad, PhD

Professor of Diagnostic, Molecular and Interventional Radiology, and Medicine (Cardiology)