This start-up founder suffers chronic pain — now she's on a mission to figure out how to measure it

Lemke and the team at Evidation see an opportunity to use sensors — the kind that are found in an iPhone or Fitbit — as a way to track chronic pain patterns and trends.

The company is partnering up with Christine Sang, the director of translational pain research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s in Boston, to determine whether pain can be detected with these so-called “digital signals.”

These signals include step counts, as a person in a great deal of pain might be less mobile, or they might experience changes in voice and speech. There might also be some heart rate variability, especially in moments of severe pain.

Ottestad, who is not affiliated with the study, says this approach has a lot of potential.

Wearable technologies can be useful, he said, in figuring out whether someone is in more or less pain. As a physician, he might also watch to see if a patient is more active once they’ve been prescribed a new medication.

Evidation is setting aside $1 million for the study, which will recruit 6,000 participants with chronic pain and 4,000 people without pain who will serve as a control. Participants will need to answer about a dozen screening questions, and will be able to participate entirely through smartphone — there’s no requirement to visit a clinic. They’ll also get a small reward via Evidation’s app.

The company plans to publish its results to the academic community, with the hopes that others will contribute to the research.

“It’s a personal mission for me,” said Lemke. “If it works, it could make a meaningful impact.”

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