Intelligent bracelet of the future made in Oulu
Have you ever wondered what your reflection would look like in a mirror of life? Would you dare to have a look?
Wearables are a rapidly developing class of devices that have come into common use. They influence many areas of our lives including health, nutrition, leisure time, and well-being. Now, it’s time for them to take part in shaping human relationships, too.
Seppo Vainio, professor at the University of Oulu and coordinator of the Elämän peili (Mirror of Life) team, talks about his innovative solution, the Elämän peli (Life Game).
Life is a game, so let’s play
- What is your solution and how does it work?
It all goes back to 2012, when we started to explore whether skin stem cells would react to changes in the blood sugar levels. We found that, indeed, skin stem cells provide a great readout of physiological parameters, such as sugar levels so we filed for a patent on this innovation with VTT. I integrated the biosensors into a game concept. I am sure this will provide a great platform for both youngsters and adults, using a nano-communication system: Biological “Internet concept” (BioINet). I wondered how to create a game that would get young people out of the house, instead of becoming coach potatoes. According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is the fourth greatest risk factor in global mortality and the main cause of many disease cases. Thus, my goal is to encourage youngsters to take care of their health, go out into the world, and engage in relationships with higher self-esteem and a profound understanding of own feelings.
Our concept is based on a breakthrough in biology and a modern system of transferring information between cells and tissues. It presents a totally new approach as it takes advantage of the technologies being developed in virtual reality, so popular with young people today. ICT will be used to enable reflection of the nano-level processes that occur in the body by the novel Mirror of Life biosensor array reader.
The team’s vision is to create an intelligent bracelet, part of the Life Game, equipped with sensors that measure everything that happens in the body. The device will award a player with bio-points for developing healthy habits, such as eating healthy food, playing sports, or expressing feelings. We have a great team working on this solution, plus many partners, including the University of Oulu, Aalto University, Biocenter, VTT and many others. The idea is based on research of the cell-derived exosomes that reflect biological processes in the body the way a mirror does. Their signals are measured on the skin’s surface, and that’s when our bracelet goes to work. The device will collect information on health, well-being and body malfunctions, just to name a few. It also will register reactions to various stimuli, e.g., stress, sadness, or excitement.
Like in any other game, you play by its rules, and in this case, the rules refer to biology. The stakes are high because you play to secure better health and satisfying relationships. Sounds serious? It’s still a game, so why not to learn something new about yourself while playing it?
Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the healthiest of us all
2. In what way can young people benefit from this solution?
These days, young people spend most of their free time in virtual reality. Until now, the virtual world took no notice of many bodily functions that are part of face-to-face interactions, e.g., smell, voice, sweat, bioaerosols from saliva, or emotions. The Life Game will elicit changes in these aspects, making a connection between personal life and digitality that has never been thought of before.
Our findings will revolutionise the perception of games and make virtual reality work for the benefit of relationships, social life and the development of medicine. They will encourage young people to realise their strengths and weaknesses. Players can compare how well they advance in the game, learn from each other’s experiences, develop new strategies, but above all, learn more about themselves. They will see how their physical and mental health is reflected in the mirror of life. It will help them make the right choices for the benefit of both physical and mental comfort.
A new array of possibilities
3. What are you aiming to improve with your solution?
The findings based on our research open up a new range of possibilities concerning treatment of diseases, such as cancer. Exosomes bring to the skin’s surface important information about the processes that occur in the body. They also convey genetic material. By analysing this data, we are able not only to provide earlier diagnostics, but also to treat some diseases more effectively. Additionally, the Life Game is fun way to coach people on how to live a healthier life, lower their risk factors, and even prevent future diseases. It perfectly dovetails with the reform in social welfare and healthcare systems set to be introduced in Finland. It will allow for savings and contribute to the development of personalised medicine. However, let’s not forget the most important aspect. For people who seem to have lost spontaneity in social interactions, we aim to help them get it back and, in a way, reconnect them. We will create a generation of people who are aware of their own body reactions and most of all, accept themselves and others for who they are: players in a never-ending game of life.
Builders of the Century challenge
4. In what way is participating in the Builders of the Century competition helpful for you?
We have reached the last stage of this competition and we are going to deliver our final pitch on 6th September. Participation in this event will give us a chance to attract attention to our innovative concept and convince others to believe in our vision. Networking with researchers, health- technology specialists and clinicians running cohort studies gives us an advantage. Of course, we also hope to receive funding to enable further research on our project, as we definitely need more resources.
The path to discoveries and innovation
5. What inspires you at work?
I have my personal reasons for believing that we can make a change. It’s important for me to be a part of a project that will influence the lives of many and contribute to the development of contemporary medicine. It’s going to be the first solution of its kind, as we are pioneers in this research. I get inspired by observing what is going on in the world. That’s how I know that this game will capture young people’s attention, allowing them to maintain their well-being while having fun.
Bright Horizons for the Mirror of Life team
6. What’s your next step in this endeavour?
I think Oulu is the right place to develop our solution, as it offers numerous possibilities. Within the next 3 years, I am planning to establish a company that will turn the idea into a concrete product. I would like to invite more researchers and companies to join my team and continue working on the Mirror of Life platform. We will develop the Life Game, which is an important application connected with our solution. My plan also includes getting schools to put the Life Game into their curricula. I think it will produce solid results in terms of improving students’ physical and mental well-being.
We will stay strong in what we do. I believe we will contribute significantly to advancing our culture and quality of life.