Why Digital Twin Tech is coming for our bodies


Soon we could all have near-live digital representations of our bodies in data, tracking, measuring and monitoring our movements, activities and key health indicators for health, fitness and well-being.

It is already happening.

My smart ring measures body temperature, heart rate, movements, sleep. My smartwatch monitors activity, workouts, blood pressure, blood oxygenation. My phone knows how many steps I’ve taken and whether changes in my pace suggest the potential onset of Parkinson’s disease. A small home spectrometer can tell you how your blood sugar or cholesterol levels react to different diets. Soon my shoes will know why my Achilles tendon hurts, what’s efficient in my stride, how high I jump, and if my walking, running, or jumping dangerously favors one side of my body.

“I think we’re moving very quickly in this world of personalized wellness, healthcare, fitness, and performance,” Plantiga CEO Quin Sandler told me recently in a TechFirst podcast.

“I think this idea of ​​comparing a human being to another human being is a very old way of looking at everything. I think what’s going to happen here and where we think we’re going is really building the infrastructure to monitor the complexity of how a human being moves, and based on their goals, develop insights, recommendations and interventions – with a possible human in the loop – to truly achieve better results. Once again, it’s about performance, recovery or injury prevention.

A Chinese RN passed the country’s national medical licensing exam five years ago, and another in the country of 1.4 billion people with just 3.8 million physicians is already helping doctors deliver care faster and cheaper.

That doesn’t mean you or I want to see the virtual AI doctor on our next visit: it’s still early days. This means that technology will have a greater impact on the monitoring and delivery of health care in the future.

And let’s be honest: it’s very, very necessary.

One thing is clear, there are several devices that collect data from our body. Plantiga offers a smart sole that adapts to your shoe and measures 150 different metrics, Sandler says, about how we walk, jump, twist, turn, and more. Plantiga, who developed an AI “digital movement coach” named Norman after the CEO’s late father (also a co-founder of the company), got his start in the world of high-performance athletes.

A user: Olympic gold medalist André de Grasse, reigning Olympic champion in the 200 meters and recent gold medalist in the 4×100 meters at the 2022 World Championships.

But the data on your performance is not limited to Olympians. It is also for seniors.

“Ultimately, our goal is to leverage human motion analysis to achieve better results,” Sandler says. “Whether it’s preventing falls in someone my mother’s age, someone dealing with a neurodegenerative disease like Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, or an athlete recovering from an ACL or from a hip injury. The way we move says a lot about our health.

And that health is getting harder and harder to deliver.

Whether it’s high costs in the US or overstretched national medical systems in Canada or the UK, it’s increasingly difficult to get care to the people who need it.

There is a role for technology here, if we design it right.

Recently I came down with Covid after a flight home from Mexico. I called the health line in BC and was able to tell them my respiratory rate and how it had changed from normal, my body temperature, heart rate and other data which helped a nurse triage to confirm that yes, it was covid, no, it wasn’t terribly serious, and yes, I was safe to stay home and recover.

In a world where nearly 25% of Americans forego medical care because they cannot afford it, and where half the world’s population does not have access to essential health services, how are we going to provide the least some level of care? Physicians certainly cannot do it alone: ​​we don’t have enough, to begin with, and those we do have are already literally overwhelmed by the sheer volume of existing patient health data.

What we have now is a wealth of data from a fraction of people who wear devices that measure and monitor health indicators. What we don’t yet have is a way to easily share that data in a secure and privacy-compliant way, or a way to expand the spectrum of people who can afford the devices.

It can come.

Some believe that we will have digital twins of the human body by the end of the decade. Scientists build the conceptual models, and the wealth of data we collect every day could, in theory, feed these models.

The challenge, of course, is to resolve privacy issues, access issues, and people’s basic willingness to participate. But our inability to provide affordable health care to billions of people on the planet will likely be a key factor in getting there.

Sandler and Plantiga, of course, simply focus on one aspect: movement.

“I feel like what we’re building and where we want to go in the next five years is to be the backbone of this world around the lens of biomechanics and movement, which really appeals to the quarter of the population that faces musculoskeletal problems,” he says. “That’s where we’re going, almost like a movement health operating system that can be embedded in shoes. We could monetize that data. We could build predictive analytics around outcomes with different diseases like sickness. Parkinson’s, the progressions, the regressions It’s the data set and what we can do with it, I think, in the next four to five years that gets really, really exciting.

Monetizing data sounds ominous, although I’m sure it could be done with permission and privacy.

But capturing all the data from our devices about our bodies and our health, and using it safely to deliver better, faster, and cheaper health outcomes: that’s an intriguing goal.

To subscribe to TechFirst here; obtain a transcription of our conversation.

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