UMass Lowell students testing a new device that could transform the way heart-rate data is collected have won praise for their work from the American College of Sports Medicine.
A portable sensor that collects heart-rate data shows promise for its accuracy and convenience, according to research conducted by David Cornell, UMass Lowell assistant professor of physical therapy and kinesiology, and his students.
"Information collected by the device provides insight on the patient's heart-rate variability, which can be a window into how one's autonomic nervous system is functioning. Used by researchers, clinicians, and practitioners in many ways, the data can also provide clues about health and cardiovascular disease risk," Cornell said.
In the past, this data was either collected by an electrocardiograph machine in a clinic or laboratory or via heart-rate monitors that required placing a strap around a person's chest. In contrast, the new device collects information using a sensor that fits over a finger, potentially expanding its use by athletes and fitness enthusiasts, according to Cornell.
The students tested the finger sensor on research participants in UMass Lowell's Health Assessment Lab as they were hooked up to a heart-rate monitor and an electrocardiogram. The research team collected data for each participant as they were lying down and sitting up in sessions over two days.
The students' results showed that the finger sensor, which costs about $150 and comes with a smartphone app that interprets the raw data, was both accurate - yielding almost the same results as the electrocardiogram - and reliable, finding similar heart-rate patterns in the same person on different days. The sensor can be used by athletes to measure their fitness, performance, and recovery after exercise and by health care professionals in their everyday work, according to Thomas Sherriff of Lowell, who helped conduct the research. Sherriff is a UMass Lowell doctoral candidate in physical therapy who also holds a bachelor's degree in exercise physiology from the university.
Other UMass Lowell students working on the project included Stephanie Amico, a master's degree candidate in public health who received her bachelor's degree in exercise physiology from the university in May, and exercise science major Kevin Ha, both of Leominster; and exercise science major Andreas Himariotis of Tyngsborough. Cornell, who assembled the team in the summer of 2019, supervised the students as they sought out research participants, then collected, managed, and processed the data for the study. Research to validate the effectiveness of the device will continue, Cornell said.
The students were honored virtually for their work during UMass Lowell's annual Student Research and Community Engagement Symposium. Building on that recognition, each student submitted the team's results and a recorded presentation about the project to the New England Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine's annual conference. Himariotis, a junior, won the top Student Investigator Undergraduate Award, while Sherriff and Amico were selected as finalists in the doctoral and master's categories, respectively.
"This research project was championed by the students and it was fantastic to see them recognized for their efforts," Cornell said.
Sherriff worked on several research projects as a UMass Lowell undergraduate. Research into knee pain and gait in runners, bone health in college students, and cardiovascular health helped him decide that he wanted to be a physical therapist. He and Cornell are planning four more studies, including two on the cardiovascular health of firefighters.
Working in the Health Assessment Lab made Amico more confident in her clinical skills and inspired her to enroll in UMass Lowell's master of public health program, where she plans to focus on dietetics.
"Learning how to talk to people in that kind of environment is really helpful, and it helped reinforce my undergrad classes," she said.
Ha said the research improved everything from his statistical analysis and citation skills to his comfort in working with people as a clinician.
"Greeting the participant, guiding them through the flow of a study, just my overall interaction with people improved," he said.
Himariotis, who one day wants to work for a professional sports team, looks forward to collaborating with Cornell on more research. Learning how to collect and analyze data, along with completing a study abstract and a taped presentation, prepared him for his Honors College capstone research and thesis, he said.