Recording the impact of artificial light on our bodies

Production of a wearable sensor to record the impact of artificial light on our bodies to prevent chronic disease has been awarded a $50,000 Seed Funding top-up from the Monash Institute of Medical Engineering.

Monash University Research Leads, Associate Professor Sean Cain, from the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences along with Professor Jon McCormack, from the Faculty of Information Technology, will lead a team to produce a powerful clinical tool that will help overcome unhealthy modern light behaviour.

Historically, we identified day and night via signals from the sun, with light entering our eyes and signalling the master clock in our brain which informed our body of the time of day. These days, we spend most of our time indoors under artificial lighting conditions which is in stark contrast to what we evolved in. We no longer have strong signals for day and night. Our bright days and dark nights that helped our bodies organise the rhythms of activity and repair throughout our bodies have been replaced with an irregular twilight that affects our internal clocks, contributing to chronic disease.

“We are not aware of the damage we are doing to ourselves via our light choices. We evolved to seek light because in our natural history, the only light available was good for us. We now have light whenever we want, at the push of a button. It’s like our modern-day ready access to high carbohydrate food; now that we can have it whenever we want, we over-consume. Light is another junk food for the body,” said Associate Professor Cain.

“Our unhealthy light behaviour is resulting in chronic diseases such as poor sleep quality, impaired muscle function, insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, liver disease, depression/mental health issues, cardiovascular disease and/or hypertension,” said Associate Professor Cain.

MIME Seed Funding top-up has enabled the redesign of a wearable lightweight sensor prototype that records the impact of different lights (fluorescent, overhead LED, sunset, phone LED) on the body sending feedback to a smartphone. Through app-based modelling, the device can calculate the impact of ambient light on our clock.

“Unlike vision, the effects of light on our clock are non-conscious. We are not aware of how confusing our light signals are. Our device essentially makes the unconscious conscious, making us aware of how healthy and unhealthy our light behaviour is,” said Professor Cain.

“This device, which is cheap to produce and pinned to clothing close to eye level will provide real-time feedback on light environments while enabling us to guide people towards healthy light cycles. It will be a powerful clinical tool that will reduce chronic disease and help manage circadian rhythms,” said Professor Cain.

In addition to the wearable sensor, this project intends to integrate the light measuring device with home smart lighting systems, which are becoming increasingly common. This would allow these systems to deliver individualised control of light delivery.

“We know some of the worst light we encounter is just before bed. Therefore, we have also created a bedside lamp with a healthy warm light that is also a wireless phone charger and a wireless sensor charger. The lamp portion is also removable for late night bathroom visits,” said Associate Professor Cain.

“It doesn’t take long for people to see the benefits of healthy light cycles. The technologies our team is developing will make it easier for people to experience the benefits. The body craves regularity and rewards us for it. Getting our lights right is the most important first step,” said Associate Professor Cain.

For more on this project, watch the video below or contact Associate Professor Sean Cain on sean.cain@monash.edu

MIME Seed Funding supports partnerships with Engineering/IT/digital health/design researchers to discover new medical solutions including technologies, devices and digital health. For more information visit www.monash.edu/mime/seed