Kunal Mankodiya, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and founder of the wearable biosensing lab at the University of Rhode Island, is pioneering innovation in the field of smart textiles.

Mankodiya’s latest technology is the invention of wearable socks and gloves for people with Parkinson’s disease. His research is supported by the National Science Foundation and began just a little over a year ago.

Growing up in India, Mankodiya worked at his family’s shop selling textile merchandise. He would bring items out of storage and to customers, all the while playing with the numerous items while business was slow. He completed his Ph.D. from the University of Luebeck in Germany in 2010, before continuing on to Carnegie Mellon University for postdoctoral research. While at Carnegie Mellon, one professor prompted him with the question, “I want to explore if wearable technologies can be useful in collecting data when patients are at home?”

The gloves and socks fall under the category of smart textiles and are used to track data in patients for a short amount of time every day. The goal is not just to collect data, but to also be able to process and examine it against clinical information so doctors can make informed decisions about medication to prescribe. Electrodes inside the technology make this a possibility.

“Our idea, is that if we provide this smart technology that takes in data for a short amount of time each day, we can collect and see if medications are working or not,” Mankodiya said. “It’s not just putting sensors into textiles, we have to collect, process, examine and transmit the data to the doctor so he/she can make informed decisions.”

Mankodiya and his team are currently in the beginning stages of implementing the technology. They are trying to think of a design that is more conducive to patients, as well as bring the cost down so it is affordable to a wider range of people. Incremental progress is the key to making the technology successful and reliable.

“We want to think of an easier design so that these textiles will be easy to wear,” said Mankodiya. “At the end, we want this product to be something that is covered by health insurance. We are trying to reduce the cost and trying to increase the efficiency.”

The team is looking at where improvements can be made in the sensors capabilities, calibration and accuracy. Patients are still contacted and asked to use the technology.

Mankodiya started the wearable biosensing lab in an effort to enhance the University’s progress in numerous directions. He intends to send the message that the students and professors are ready for a tremendous change, and the enthusiastic young students are the beginning.

“Rhode Island is the future,” Mankodiya said. “If we don’t think, who else will think? That is the mindset we need to have. Rhode Island is making a huge leap towards development in so many directions.”