Public Release:  Wireless sensors used to study meditation's effect on heart health

Scripps Translational Science Institute teams with Chopra Center, Chopra Foundation in innovative research

Scripps Health

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IMAGE: Wireless sensors receive final adjustments before the start of meditation during a Scripps Translational Science Institute study. view more

Credit: Scripps Health

SAN DIEGO -- Demystifying meditation with science, researchers at the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) have teamed with The Chopra Foundation and The Chopra Center for Wellbeing in a novel study of the ancient practice that uses wireless health sensors to collect physiological data from meditators.

"Although the health benefits of meditation have been extensively studied, little is known about the immediate effects of meditation on the heart and vascular system, partly because of the difficulty collecting research quality data through conventional means," said Scripps Health Director of Digital Medicine Steve Steinhubl M.D. "Wireless devices offer new ways to track blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and other vital signs in a more discrete and non-disruptive way."

STSI is a National Institutes of Health-sponsored consortium led by Scripps Health in collaboration with The Scripps Research Institute. Through this innovative partnership, Scripps is leading the effort to translate the latest wireless and genetic medical technologies into high-quality, cost-effective treatments for patients.

Meditation has long been associated with lower levels of stress and increased emotional well-being, but its immediate effect on the cardiovascular system remains uncertain. A 2007 report by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found flaws in most of the 813 meditation studies that were reviewed, and the authors were unable to draw "firm conclusions" about the role of meditation in health care.

"For thousands of years people have practiced meditation to experience inner calm, relieve stress and cultivate balance or what is known in modern medicine as homeostasis, which is the body's ability to regulate its internal conditions and create a healthy, stable environment," said Chopra Center co-founder Deepak Chopra, M.D. "We're excited about the opportunity to use wireless technology to gain more scientific data about meditation's tangible benefits for health and wellbeing. This research has great potential value for both meditators and physicians whose patients might be helped by meditation."

The STSI study might for the first time demonstrate the immediate influence of meditation on blood pressure and markers of stress, and eventually guide better and more individualized treatments of high blood pressure, chronic pain or other health conditions, said STSI Director and Scripps Chief Academic Officer Eric Topol, M.D. "With STSI's experience and expertise in digital and individualized medicine, we hope to offer advanced insight into the body's response to meditation," he said.

The work also could reinforce the value of using wireless health devices in scientific research, particularly when more conventional equipment would interfere with the normal activities of study participants.

The 40 participants in the meditation study recently attended a weeklong retreat that was led by Dr. Chopra at his center in Carlsbad, Calif. Half of the participants were experienced meditators while the others were newcomers to the practice.

Three wireless health devices were attached to the participants. The ViSi Mobile System made by Sotera Wireless monitored blood pressure and heart rate, employing continuous non-invasive blood pressure (cNIBP) and electrocardiogram technologies. The Emotiv EEG tracked brain electrical activity through 14 channels. The HealthPatch made by Vital Connect recorded heart rate and its variability, respiratory rate and skin temperature.

Participants were tracked through the devices in real time for 40 minutes during a meditation session on the first day of the retreat and again for 40 minutes during a meditation session on the last day. The devices generated massive streams of data - more than 1 million data points per minute for each individual - that were securely collected through a special wireless infrastructure set up by Burwood Group, a technology consulting firm headquartered in Chicago with offices in San Diego. The data were stored in cloud-based servers operated by Huneo, a Cleveland health data processing company.

Study participants ranged in age from 20 to 72 and came from as far away as Columbia, Denmark and Belgium to attend the retreat.

Edei Ledet of Vista, Calif., was among the meditation novices who took part in the research.

"I had a life crisis that made me reevaluate what I was doing both for my work and how I was taking care of myself," she said. "I started learning meditation about eight months ago, and from my experience so far it has been enormously helpful in healing emotionally and physically.

"I believe research in this area is vital to gaining a better understanding of how the brain, body and mind are connected. So I was really happy to be part of the STSI study," Ledet said.

STSI researchers expect to report results from the study next year. Funding for the study was provided by the Chopra Foundation and through in-kind device donations from Sotera Wireless, Emotiv and Vital Connect.

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ABOUT THE CHOPRA FOUNDATION

Founded in 2000 by Dr. Deepak Chopra, The Chopra Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) organization dedicated to improving health and wellbeing, expanding consciousness and promoting world peace. The Chopra Foundation's mission is to participate with individuals and organizations to create a critical mass for a peaceful, just, sustainable, healthy and happier world. It is dedicated to exploring consciousness as the ground of existence, through both objective scientific methodology and direct subjective experience. The knowledge will be applied in the enhancement of health, business, leadership and conflict resolution. More information can be found at http://www.choprafoundation.org.

ABOUT SCRIPPS HEALTH

Founded in 1924 by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, Scripps Health is a nonprofit integrated health system based in San Diego, Calif. Scripps treats a half-million patients annually through the dedication of 2,600 affiliated physicians and 13,500 employees among its five acute-care hospital campuses, hospice and home health care services, and an ambulatory care network of physician offices and 26 outpatient centers and clinics.

Recognized as a leader in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, Scripps is also at the forefront of clinical research, genomic medicine, wireless health care and graduate medical education. With three highly respected graduate medical education programs, Scripps is a longstanding member of the Association of American Medical Colleges. Truven Health Analytics (formerly Thomson Reuters) has named Scripps one of the top five large health systems in the nation. Scripps is nationally recognized in six specialties by U.S. News & World Report, which places Scripps cardiovascular program among the top 20 in the country. Scripps has been consistently recognized by Fortune, Working Mother magazine and AARP as one of the best places in the nation to work. More information can be found at http://www.scripps.org.

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