Nevermind, a Technological T-shirt to Face Depression

A hi-tech T-shirt promises to move on to diagnosing, monitoring and treating depression. The project, financed by the European Union, coordinated by the E. Piaggio Research Centre at the Pisa University, gathers universities, clinical centres and companies from six European countries

t-shirt_intelligenteStill today, we perceive depression as a mood that concerns our privacy, and not as a real illness or a social issue, despite its being the third most important cause of death in the Western world.

Unfortunately, there exist no specific clinical test yet to objectively diagnose the insurgence of this illness and to monitor a prognosis. In fact, at present, a psychiatrist diagnoses depression on a session, with a patient reporting his/her troubles and symptoms. However, sometimes symptoms are biased by a misperception of symptoms on the part of the patient, making a certain and early diagnosis of the disease even more difficult.

The European Nevermind project (acronym of NEurobehavioral predictiVE and peRsonalized Modeling of depressIve symptoms duriNg primary somatic Disorders, through ICT-enabled, self-management procedures) fits into this context. The research project, coordinated by Enzo Pasquale Scilingo, professor of bio-engineering and assistant manager at the Pisa University E. Piaggio Research Centre, involves nine partners including universities, clinical centres and companies from six European countries. The project aims at developing an innovative, efficient technological system to prevent the insurgence of depression in seriously ill patients, thus enabling engineers, physicians and psychologists to collaborate in monitoring and diagnosing depression.

A T-shirt at the Core of the System

Professor Enzo Pasquale Scilingo, Piaggio Research Centre, coordinating Nevermind, a European research project
Professor Enzo Pasquale Scilingo, Piaggio Research Centre, coordinating Nevermind, a European research project

In fact, Nevermind is a complex system, based on a wearable diagnostic instrument: a T-shirt developed by Smartex, a textile mill within the Navacchio Technology Park (Pisa), which participates in research projects on wearable electronics applied in different fields, such as health-care, sports, the car industry, virtual reality, rehabilitation and motor control.

«The purpose of our project – Enzo Pasquale Scilingo explains – is to succeed in monitoring a patient’s vital parameters, like cardiac cycle, respiratory and physical cycles, by means of a T-shirt equipped with electrodes integrated in the fabric. We have already applied it in other fields, e.g. to study mental disorders like the bipolar mood disorder, a program carried out within Psyche, our previous research project. The sensing T-shirt is very user-friendly and unobstructive, therefore suitable for patients, like depressed people, who are not willing to cooperate and to be involved in diagnostic tests using a machine. After having tested the T-shirt on some patients, we considered making the garment even more comfortable to wear and had it made both of Lycra and of cotton. Patients will be requested to wear it on the naked skin at least two hours before going to sleep and during the night sleep. The morning after, they can take it off, unplug the electronic device (the size of a matchbox) and plug it into a suitable basic device to send signals to a remote data processing centre. There, advanced analysis methods will be implemented to estimate the probable insurgence of depression symptoms. Should there be a high probability, the patient receives a feedback on his/her smartphone, duly equipped with a real-time supporting system. Automatically, that same system will recommend the patient a customized psychotherapy, giving suggestions on a suitable lifestyle (quality sleep, exercise, diet), and guiding him/her through “Mindfulness” meditation sessions to relax and become aware of his/her mind/body condition. Therefore, wearable systems, like a sensing T-shirt and other advanced monitoring techniques, will be able to supply objective data and enable a diagnosis finally not only based on a patient’s perception. Just to give an example, the T-shirt can tell us how long and above all how the patient slept. In addition, information from the T-shirt on the cardiac, respiratory and motor cycle will help build a pattern to predict the insurgence of depression symptoms so as to organize a customized treatment».

From Initial Tests to Marketing

Nevermind, the sensing T-shirt that can monitor body signals associated with the insurgence of depression
Nevermind, the sensing T-shirt that can monitor body signals associated with the insurgence of depression

The Nevermind project, financed by the European Commission within the Horizon 2020 Research Programme, began last January and will last four years. «After the latest adjustments on the system and its methods, – Mr. Scilingo adds – in September we shall start on a pilot study involving patients. We shall be able to check whether they have had any difficulties, whether they accept our method, and even whether the whole system architecture performs according to our expectations. On a later stage, a two-year study will monitor in total 150 patients by applying a specifically developed protocol. Within the remaining six months, we shall process all data acquired. We plan to take to market the system, including the T-shirt, a smartphone and relevant software components within the next four years. The final purpose of the Nevermind project is to make an effective, user friendly and low cost monitoring system available to everybody. A system able to interface with cardiac monitoring systems already available to everybody, like a smart-watch or commonly used holter systems».

by Maria Pia Longo