New CU-led study seeks volunteers to help military spot COVID-19 early

BioIntelliSense’s BioSticker, artificial intelligence codeveloped at UCHealth, set the table for $2.8 million, 10-month Department of Defense-funded study
Aug. 5, 2021

A man in a military uniform receives a vaccine. The military is looking for volunteers to help spot COVID-19 early.

If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or are starting to feel symptoms, consider serving those who serve by joining a research study that involves little more than a (very) smart sticker on the upper chest for two weeks.

The U.S. Army Research and Development Command is spending $2.8 million on a study to test and refine a system developed by Golden-based BioIntelliSense with help from UCHealth’s CARE Innovation Center. The system shows promise in spotting COVID-19 or similar diseases early – even when those diseases are still imperceptible to the patient.

BioIntelliSense’s BioSticker shows promise in spotting COVID-19 early, even before patients know they have it.
BioIntelliSense’s BioSticker shows promise in spotting COVID-19 early, even before patients know they have it. Photo courtesy of BioIntelliSense.

The University of Colorado School of Medicine’s CU Anschutz Center for Combat Medicine and Battlefield (COMBAT) Research is leading the study with BioIntelliSense, which makes that Band-Aid-like sticker (a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medical device called the BioSticker) and the electronics giant Philips, which markets the system and makes the monitoring software it uses.

Dr. Vik Bebarta, the CU School of Medicine and UCHealth Emergency Medicine physician who leads the COMBAT Center, is leading the trial together with his Emergency Medicine colleague Dr. Dickson Cheung. The aim is to enroll 2,500 volunteers from around the country with a focus on Colorado, where the COMBAT Center wants to enroll 1,000 people, Bebearta says.

“BioIntelliSense is here, and the COMBAT Center is here, and there are big military and veterans’ communities we serve in Colorado,” Bebarta said.

‘Enlist’ now to help spot COVID-19 early

Volunteers must be 18 or older, have received a COVID-19 test in the past 24 hours, and either have possible COVID-19 symptoms or have been in contact with someone with the coronavirus over the past three days (visit BioStickerCovidStudy.com for full details and to join the trial).

Participants won’t need to visit UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus or any other medical facility. Bebarta’s team will mail you a roughly three-inch-by-one-inch BioSticker you’ll wear for 14 days. An accompanying Bluetooth-enabled BioHub that’s about the size of a hockey puck will amass data the BioSticker collects on your heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen level, body temperature, body position, activity levels, sleep status, and even coughing, and send it all securely to the research team. You’ll fill out a daily online form and, when the two weeks are up, you’ll send the BioSticker and BioHub back to the research team.

“There’s no appointment; there’s no paper – it’s the 2021 version of medical research,” Bebarta said.

The study’s goal is to refine BioIntelliSense’s software – it’s powered by a combination of human-engineered and artificial-intelligence algorithms – by providing real-world data to assess and improve its predictive ability with early-stage or asymptomatic COVID-19 patients.

“Our early data shows the system to be incredibly predictive in diagnosing Covid cases,” Bebarta said.

The military need

The hardware used in the study to help spot COVID-19 early.
Study volunteers will have the hardware shipped straight to them – no study-center visit necessary. Photo courtesy of BioIntelliSense.

COVID-19 is a problem for all of us, and the U.S. armed forces are certainly no exception. Soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and women, and the rest generally live and work together and in sorts of close quarters in which the coronavirus has shown to easily spread through the air. That’s a particularly worry when asymptomatic and presymptomatic cases appear to account for nearly 60% of transmission. The earlier one can diagnose the coronavirus, the faster one can intervene for the benefit of the patient and others.

Founded in 2018 as a collaboration of the CU School of Medicine’s Departments of Surgery, Anesthesiology, and Emergency Medicine, the CU Anschutz COMBAT Center has blossomed into a national military-medicine research powerhouse.

Its leader Bebarta knows combat medicine firsthand. The U.S. Air Force Academy graduate spent 14 years as a military physician and remains a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, where he serves in the Office of the Chief Scientist. Prior to his five years leading major military-medicine research efforts, Bebarta was deployed four times in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The COMBAT Center’s research agenda reflects his front-line experience: among other work, the center’s researchers have studied therapies for acute traumatic brain injury, new chemical antidotes for first responders, and ways to reduce oxygen use by special-operations medics. But the COMBAT Center’s research studies extend beyond the battlefield. Among other examples, its researchers have considered ways to address suicide as well as opioid use among soldiers.

: CU School of Medicine and UCHealth Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Vik Bebarta leads the CU Anschutz COMBAT Center, which is working to spot COVID-19 early..
CU School of Medicine and UCHealth Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Vik Bebarta leads the CU Anschutz COMBAT Center.

IntelliBioSense and UCHealth have been partners for years. UCHealth and its CARE Innovation Center helped develop and test the BioSticker and were the first in the nation to begin using it in patient care. When COVID-19 emerged, the BioSticker became an important tool in the UCHealth Virtual Health Center’s successful efforts to monitor at-home patients who had been hospitalized with the coronavirus. UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Greeley Hospital, and Memorial Central and Memorial North hospitals in Colorado Springs are monitoring recovering coronavirus patients remotely using the BioSticker and also Masimo’s wearable technology.

Bebarta says the BioSticker’s military applications could extend well beyond COVID-19. The military has long been looking for ways to use convenient, unobtrusive, robust wearables to keep track of the health of servicemen and women. In addition to detecting disease, he says, a BioSticker-type wearable could have applications ranging from monitoring physiologic performance during physical field training to speeding triage by enabling the immediate transfer of a wounded soldier’s vital signs to an arriving medic.

“We’ve been hunting for this for ten, fifteen years,” Bebarta said.

About the author

Todd Neff has written hundreds of stories for University of Colorado Hospital and UCHealth. He covered science and the environment for the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and has taught narrative nonfiction at the University of Colorado, where he was a Ted Scripps Fellowship recipient in Environmental Journalism. He is author of “A Beard Cut Short,” a biography of a remarkable professor; “The Laser That’s Changing the World,” a history of lidar; and “From Jars to the Stars,” a history of Ball Aerospace.

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