A doctoral student at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, Akhil Padmanabha, has developed a portable device that objectively measures scratching intensity. This device has the potential to help researchers assess the effectiveness of medications used to reduce itching. According to Dr. Sonal Choudhary, a dermatologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, itching is the most common complaint among patients who visit dermatologists. There are various causes of itching, including eczema, psoriasis, allergic reactions, and liver diseases.

Previously, portable devices could detect when and for how long someone scratched, but they couldn’t measure the intensity of the scratching. The research team, which includes Padmanabha, Choudhary, and CMU advisors Zackory Erickson and Carmel Majidi, developed a device that can be worn as a ring on the finger used for scratching. The device uses an accelerometer to measure finger movement and a contact microphone to capture high-frequency vibrations associated with scratching. Using data from healthy volunteers, the team developed algorithms to estimate scratching intensity.

This portable device has shown promising results, with a mean absolute error of 1.37, indicating an accuracy that would make its readings clinically significant. Additionally, researchers found that subjective estimates of scratching intensity on a scale of 0 to 10 often differed among patients. Once further validated, this device could be valuable for researchers studying new drugs and their impact on itching.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University