The Dawn of Biomarkers 3.0 and One Ring to Rule Them All

Digital biomarkers integrated within wearables are revolutionizing healthcare. Digital biomarkers enabling wearables to diagnose illness such as COVID can change the landscape for future innovation in the health tech industry.

The Dawn of Biomarkers 3.0

Digital biomarkers are shaping the future of healthcare. The earliest health and fitness trackers used speed-based markers in wristbands. For example, the FitBit Flex, first released in 2013, could track steps, distance, and sleep patterns. We then saw the rise of digital metabolic biomarkers, such as heart rate variability – a comprehensive biomarker for physical and psychological health – which Whoop uses in its straps to measure performance, and Oura uses to track users’ sleep patterns. 

Today, we’re witnessing the dawn of digital biomarkers 3.0, with new technology that we can use to monitor our health and fitness over time using tools that used to only exist in hospital settings. One example is continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), which are now being rolled out by a number of startups. These are designed to help diabetics by tracking minute-by-minute fluctuations in blood glucose with experts predicting a “watershed” moment for CGMs this year as metabolic health startups expand beyond diabetes.

Ultimately, digital biomarkers could help to revolutionize the healthcare industry from reactive to preventive. Researchers will not only be able to explain diseases better, but they will also have more long-term data to analyse. One thing’s for sure, research into digital biomarkers looks set to soar in the coming years. 

One ring to rule them all?

Early in the pandemic, Oura found out that they had a user who sought medical attention for a possible COVID infection after receiving a low “Readiness” score. As it turned out, this user did in fact, have coronavirus (and has since recovered). In 2020, Oura landed a number of high-profile partnerships with the NBA, WNBA, UFC, and NASCAR, among others, and donated rings to thousands of frontline healthcare workers. 

Early studies indicate that the Oura ring could help detect coronavirus infections early on. In any case, the digital biomarkers: temperature monitoring, heart rate variability, and respiratory rate, have all proven to be key metrics in predicting a possible illness.

But, Oura’s is not the only smart-health-tracking ring out there. Earlier this year, Fitbit dropped a patent which revealed the company’s plans to make a ring for SpO2 tracking and NFC. It talks about a photodetector sensor that enables transmissive examination of blood oxygen levels, which is more accurate than the type of SpO2 sensor found on wrist wearables that uses reflected light.

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