Interview: Mayo Clinic Opens First of its Kind Well Living Lab

Today I have a post that is slightly different than the norm. As I mentioned, I recently attended the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation Transform conference. During the first day of the conference, Mayo Clinic revealed their new Well Living Lab, a first of its kind! A huge thank you to their team for answering my questions and allowing me to teach you all a bit more about the Well Living Lab and how it came to be!
1.      Explain the purpose of the Well-Living Lab?

The Well Living Lab is the first scientific research center to use human-subjects research to understand the interaction between health and well-being and indoor environments. The Lab will validate the real-world impact of indoor environments on human health and well-being, and generate an evidence-base that can be used in practical ways to create healthier indoor spaces. The Well Living Lab offers an unprecedented degree of control over research variables through a modular, reconfigurable space that simulates a wide variety of real-world environments. We also configured the lab with a variety of sensor technology that was unobtrusive (minimizing features like wires and other normal testing equipment that you’d typically see in a lab) and focusing on embedded sensors and wearables to create extremely realistic environments in order to conduct the most accurate human-centered studies and research.

2.      How did the idea of the Well-Living Lab come to be?

Americans spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors-from homes to office or work environments, schools, retail stores, fitness centers, health care facilities, and more-which means exposure to indoor environments is at an all-time high. But what many people don’t realize is that buildings, and everything in them, can affect human health and well-being. We wanted to create a testing ground to study the relationship between buildings and human health and well-being more closely and couldn’t have partnered with a better industry leader in Mayo Clinic.

3.      Who will benefit from the Well-Living Lab and how?

The lab will focus exclusively on human subjects. The knowledge produced by the Well Living Lab will spark innovation and change in the built environment to enhance how people live, work and play. The Lab also gives companies from around the world a unique opportunity to test products and services in real-life settings to better identify and validate potential health benefits.

4.      Does the Well-Living Lab impact the patients? If so, how?

Yes, the Well Living Lab will impact the patients/subjects. For example, patients are often placed in sleep labs to observe sleep quality (i.e. connected to wires and monitors) since when a subject is observed in his/her own home, it’s impossible to totally control factors like meal times, light, sound and air quality. However, the Well Living Lab is outfitted with the most advanced sensor technology in the world, allowing Mayo’s researchers in the lab to monitor and observe subjects as they would normally behave (they will sleep in a normal bed while the sensor-rich environment tracks and records the desired biometric measures). This allows us to address the many behavioral aspects of sleep hygiene. We look forward to all that we will learn from observing patients in the lab’s sensor-rich and highly realistic environments.

5.      What are some of the correlations between indoor environments and human health? (i.e: sitting for long periods of time) -What can we expect from the Well-Living Lab in the next 3-5 years? 10 years?

Many aspects of indoor environments impact health – often in unexpected ways. For instance, standard office desk and chair design compel us to sit for long periods of time, but scientific studies have shown this sedentary behavior to be harmful to our long-term health.  In another example, standard indoor lighting conditions in homes and offices are not designed to account for the effect that light has on our circadian rhythm, which affects our sleep/wake cycle, mood and cognitive performance. However, light is not the only thing that can impact sleep; the acoustic and thermal environment has an effect as well. Each of these topics have been explored in some detail in targeted scientific and medical research, but few have been examined in the context of every-day life.

In the next few years we expect to identify and verify gold-standard methods for measuring each of these factors on real people, with minimally invasive techniques. Do low-cost, non-invasive sleep monitors really work? Which ones? What do they really tell us? If we combine the data from sleep sensors, light sensors, and personal activity sensors, can we improve the certainty of our measurement techniques? What is the value of all this data within the complexity of a real life? In less than 3 years, we will have answers to many of these questions.

Over the longer term, these new tools will allow researchers in the lab to investigate and tease apart competing and interacting variables, and ultimately lead us to a deeper understanding of how real features within a building can not only minimize harm but also help actively promote better health and improve performance and productivity.

6.      Is there a correlation between chronic disease patients and a concept like the Well-Living Lab?

Yes, although studying chronic conditions is not the explicit goal of the Well Living Lab, our research will likely prove useful in identifying approaches to aid in effective management of a variety of chronic conditions. For example, those with COPD and asthma will benefit from a greater understanding and control of specific indoor pollutants that worsen these conditions; joint and muscle conditions like carpal tunnel and arthritis can be addressed through the lab’s research in ergonomics and furniture design. Studying behavior in the indoor environment, such as eating and activity habits, has the potential to generate new approaches to help combat obesity and weight disorders.

How cool, right?! I’m very impressed with what the Mayo Clinic is doing for health innovation. Our society is very focused on wellness and how to prolong life; concepts like the Well Living Lab allow us to research the best, and healthiest, ways to achieve this goal.

Thank you for the interview, Mayo Clinic!


Chronically Kristin

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