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Study Using Phones to Examine Blood Pressure, Stress

My BP Lab app

My BP Lab app landing page (Sage Bionetworks)

16 March 2018. A new research project is underway to better understand the linkages between stress and blood pressure, using surveys and physiological data collected with Samsung smartphones. The study, called My BP Lab, is a joint initiative of behavioral scientists at University of California in San Francisco and Sage Bionetworks in Seattle.

My BP Lab seeks to gather day-to-day real-life data on stresses in people’s lives and fluctuations in their blood pressure levels over 3 weeks. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common condition affecting 1 in 3 adults in the U.S., or about 75 million people, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But barely more than half of people with the condition (54%) have their blood pressure under control, despite hypertension increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke.

A challenge up to now for research on daily stresses and blood pressure is finding quick, simple ways of reading blood pressure. Doctors’ offices, clinics, and drug stores use inflatable cuffs, which are stationary pieces of equipment. In this study, participants with Samsung Galaxy S9 or S9+ phones use a built-in optical sensor on the back of the phone to read blood pressure 3 times a day, by placing an index finger over the sensor. The My BP Plan app designed for the study reads blood pressure and volume in 20 to 30 seconds.

Through the app, participants also answer questions about demographic factors, personality and psychological traits, daily stress and emotional functioning. After the first week, participants will receive customized information about their stress levels, emotional responses, and physiological functioning. These periodic reports are expected to become more specific and personalized as the study progresses.

“This study potentially will provide the largest data set ever obtained on stress levels, health behaviors, and physiological responses during the course of one’s daily life,” says UC San Francisco psychiatry professor Wendy Berry Mendes, and a principle investigator on the project, in a Sage Bionetworks statement. “By collecting subjective experiences, behaviors like sleep and exercise, and blood pressure levels across a three week period, we can identify the most important triggers of stress physiology.”

The project has some limitations. First, all participants need to be adults age 18 and over from the United States. And second, the app works only on the Samsung S9 and S9+ phones. Other phones, even those running Android, will not work. The My BP Plan app was built using ResearchStack, an open-source software development kit for writing research apps on Android devices. A goal of ResearchStack is to make it easier to adapt research apps written for Apple’s ResearchKit to Android.

“The use of smartphones to distribute studies provides an easy approach for interested individuals to get actively involved in health research,” says Sage Bionetworks president Lara Mangravite. “Participants not only contribute to science but have the ability to immediately learn about their own health.” Sage is a pioneer in harnessing smartphones for research. As reported in Science and Enterprise, Sage Bionetworks took part in a study gathering data on multiple sclerosis using phones, and in February 2017, the group began a study using phones to photograph moles on the skin to evaluate their potential for cancer.

Mendes and colleagues from UC San Francisco tell more about My BP Lab in the following video.

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