UMass Nursing Receives $1.23 Million NIH Center Grant to Study Wearables, Fatigue and Sleep in Chronic Illness

Left to right, core director Jenna Marquard, co-director Rebecca Spencer, staff Joann Chauvin, core director Annette Wysocki, director Cynthia Jacelon and executive committee member Peter Reinhart.

The College of Nursing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently was awarded a five-year, $1.23 million grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research to create a new center where scientists will develop technologies to help people with chronic illness manage fatigue and impaired sleep.

Studies that will also help patients decide when and how to modify their activities will test wearable or handheld devices to monitor fatigue or sleep pattern changes.

The campus UManage Center to Build the Science of Symptom Self-Management is one of just six new center grants awarded in the nation this year by the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health, says Cynthia Jacelon, professor of nursing and center director.

She says, “The UManage Center will help individuals with chronic illness live healthier, more functional lives. Nurse-led interdisciplinary teams will use emerging technologies being developed on the UMass Amherst campus to help manage symptoms affecting millions of individuals with chronic conditions that interfere with living life to the fullest.”

Study subjects will be able to use the new information to make decisions about their health activities. New wearable or hand-held technologies “will help them stop and rest or change their sleep hygiene before it’s too late,” she adds.

Jacelon’s interdisciplinary team includes College of Nursing researchers Annette Wysocki, Karen Kalmakis and Rachel Walker plus sleep expert Rebecca Spencer of psychological and brain sciences, computer science big data specialist Deepak Ganesan of the College of Information and Computer Sciences and health informatics and engineering psychology researcher Jenna Marquard of mechanical and industrial engineering.

They will collaborate with industry partners and use many of the laboratories and equipment in the campus Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) in their investigations.

Michael Malone, vice chancellor for research and engagement, says, “This interdisciplinary work is the type of exciting new opportunity we envisioned that IALS infrastructure would catalyze. The program brings together a terrific research team that will create both innovation and impact.”

Dean Stephen Cavanagh of the College of Nursing adds, “The creation of the UManage Center is an outstanding achievement for our nurse researchers. The center will create an environment where they can work and collaborate with other outstanding scholars working towards the common goal of improving health and the quality of life for those suffering from chronic illnesses.”

Nursing faculty Walker and Kalmakis will conduct the first two research projects. Walker’s team hopes to develop a wearable eye-tracking technology to help cancer survivors monitor and self-manage persistent fatigue. Kalmakis’s team will study cortisol in sweat as a potential stress and fatigue indicator to help patients manage their behavior and responses.

Jacelon says the UManage Center will fund 10 pilot research studies over the next five years. These will offer nursing faculty the opportunity to develop strategies to help individuals improve their health and to design larger, population-based studies and expand their research capacity to work with interdisciplinary research teams.