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Ganesan Part of Team Developing Device to Help HIV Patients Maintain Medication Schedule

Deepak Ganesan

For patients with HIV and other chronic conditions, taking medicines daily and exactly as prescribed is crucial for quality of life and long-term health. To support this, a team of University of Massachusetts Amherst computer scientists and engineers recently received a four-year, $1.71 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a cost-effective, easy-to-use device similar to a fitness tracker for maintaining a medication regime.

Failure to adhere to a lifelong medication antiviral therapy increases HIV patients' risks of drug resistance and loss of future treatment options, among other consequences, say UMass Amherst team leaders Jenna Marquard, mechanical and industrial engineering, and Deepak Ganesan, computer science.

They will work with Dr. Barry Saver and others at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle and the University of Washington, to design and evaluate a wrist-worn device that detects when a person is interacting with the container and swallowing a pill.

Ganesan says, "The challenge is to design a solution that is cost-effective, unobtrusive and accurate so that it can be scaled easily. While there are many mobile phone and sensor-based solutions for medication adherence, they fall short of one or more of these goals. Some of them require expensive instruments on the pill bottles, others require manual input of information by a user, and most do not sense whether the pill was ingested or not."

Marquard, whose research specializes in health informatics and human factors engineering, notes that the project is a design as well as a technology challenge. "The solution needs to fit seamlessly into patients' patterns of daily living," she explains. "If we don't carefully attend to their needs in our design, the likelihood that our system will improve medication adherence is limited."

Saver adds, "Unfortunately, a lack of reliable, real-time information about actual medication adherence makes it difficult to identify and work with patients struggling with adherence before they experience adverse outcomes. So the question turns to whether we can monitor adherence and provide timely feedback to patients and their clinicians." He and colleagues will test the UMass Amherst team's device in two field studies over the course of the grant.

They will look for patient behaviors, as Marquard explains; the system can compare what patients actually do with a database of their known medication regime. It could then prompt actions such as providing automatic feedback and reminders to patients, alerts to clinicians, or summary reports to doctors and other clinicians at office visits.

Marquard and Ganesan say that this project closely aligns with the goals of the UMass Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS) on the Amherst campus, which focuses on translating life science research into products that improve human health. As IALS director Peter Reinhart, points out, "This is an exciting endeavor, both because it addresses an important healthcare problem and because it is the type of interdisciplinary collaboration leading to real-world solutions that constitute the mission of the IALS Center for Personalized Health Monitoring."

(Source: UMass News Office