Wearable Device Measures Intensity of Scratching for Research on Itching

A wearable device has been developed by Akhil Padmanabha, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, to objectively measure the intensity of scratching. This device has the potential to help researchers evaluate the effectiveness of medications used to reduce itching. Dr. Sonal Choudhary, a dermatologist and dermatopathologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, stated that itch is the most common complaint among patients seen by dermatologists. There are various causes of itch, including eczema, psoriasis, allergic reactions, and liver disease.

Previously, wearable devices could detect when and how long someone scratched but were unable to measure the intensity of scratching. The team of researchers, including Padmanabha, Choudhary, and CMU advisors Zackory Erickson and Carmel Majidi, developed a device that could be worn like a ring on a scratching finger. The device utilized an accelerometer to measure finger movement and a contact microphone to capture the high-frequency vibrations associated with scratching. Using data from healthy volunteers, the team developed algorithms to estimate scratch intensity.

This wearable device has shown promising results, with a mean absolute error of 1.37, indicating a precision that would make its readings clinically significant. Additionally, the researchers discovered that subjective estimations of scratch intensity on a 0-10 scale often differed among patients. Once further validated, this device could be valuable for researchers studying new drugs and their impact on itching.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University