Investigation through collaboration: Looking at stress, race, and CVD

Thanks to a new wearable sensor developed by MCIRCC members, University of Michigan researchers will get a better sense of how patients deal with chronic stress.

The sensor, worn on the finger, will give researchers a real-time assessment of the cardiovascular system using machine learning methods to create computer-assisted clinical decision support systems. Some of the physiological metrics it will measure include blood pressure, heart rate, and peripheral vascular resistance.

Kayvan Najarian, PhD, Kenn Oldham, PhD, Kevin Ward, MD, Sardar Ansari, PhD, and Rodney Daniels, MD received funding from MCIRCC, MTRAC, the Coulter Program, and the National Science Foundation to develop the sensor.

Najarian’s sensor is an integral part of a new, NIH-funded study led by Kira Birditt, PhD, a research associate professor in the Life Course Development program at the Institute for Social Research. Her research looks at how stress and social relationships “get under the skin” to influence overall health and well-being.

According to Birditt, there is a large literature showing that chronic stress may account for racial health disparities in cardiovascular health. In fact, hypertension is the number one cause of racial disparities in mortality in the U.S. However, there is little known about how chronic stress impacts the daily lived experience of minorities, especially as it relates to cardiovascular disease.

By using Najarian’s sensor and advanced computational methods, the researchers will be able to examine the daily lives of adults to better understand how lifelong patterns of stress link with daily stress and cardiovascular outcomes. Ultimately, they hope to gain a more nuanced understanding of the psychological and biological implications of stress among diverse populations.

If the researchers are successful in identifying predictive factors of cardiovascular stress, they’ll be able to inform and improve patient interventions going forward. One example the researchers provided is using text messages to warn a patient about high levels of cardiovascular stress. They would also be able to send a daily stress report to clinicians or family members. Birditt hopes that this additional knowledge will help clinicians, family members, and individuals build a better support system and perhaps adjust treatment and lifestyle.

However, the sensor and clinical decision support system could have many applications across the range of critical care. The researchers plan to extend the system to victims of traumatic injuries and illnesses. In doing so, they’ll be able to better understand the chronic stress patients face as as result of their injury or illness and attempt to improve their quality of care.