London: Scientists have developed a "smart shirt" that can accurately measure breathing and could be used to monitor lung disease by sensing movements in the chest and abdomen.
Researchers from Radboud University Medical Centre in The Netherlands used the smart shirts, together with a mobile app, to reliably measure breathing in healthy people while carrying out a range of everyday activities.
"Smart shirts are already available, but they tend to be used by professional or amateur sportsmen and women. We wanted to see whether a smart shirt could provide an accurate and more practical alternative for measuring lung function," said Denise Mannee, a technical physician from Radboud University.
The researchers can now test out the smart shirts with patients who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
COPD is a growing problem with around 64 million people suffering with the condition worldwide.
The smart shirt, called the "Hexoskin", senses how the fabric stretches when the wearer's chest expands and contracts and uses these measurements to gauge the volume of air inhaled and exhaled.
It also records heart rate and movement.
During the study, the team asked a group of 15 healthy volunteers to wear a smart shirt while doing everyday activities including lying down, sitting, standing, climbing stairs and vacuuming.
Participants said the smart shirts were comfortable and could be worn underneath their normal clothes.
At the same time, the volunteers also wore the equipment traditionally used to measure breathing that includes a face mask and bulky backpack.
Researchers compared the measurements recorded using the two techniques for each person doing each activity on the two occasions.
In general, they found that the measurements were very similar. When lying, the difference between measurements taken by the two pieces of equipment was just 0.2 per cent on average, which only represents a few millilitres of air.
In more strenuous activities there were slightly greater differences, for example with vacuuming the difference was 3.1 per cent on average, or around 40ml.
"These results are important because they indicate that the smart shirt can be worn by patients while they go about their daily lives to accurately measure their lung function," said Mannee.
The researchers now plan to repeat tests on the smart shirts with COPD patients.