October 31, 2023 – Hot flashes have been a hot topic lately.
Vasomotor symptomsthe sudden increase in body temperature that affects about 75% of people menopause women, have sparked interest following the approval of a new oral drug and link research hot flashes to Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and stroke.
Now, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Embr Labs (a spinoff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) are joining the discussion, saying they have developed a machine learning algorithm that can predict a hot flash.
Their idea is to combine this algorithm with a product called Embr Wave, a watch-like wearable that can deliver coolness (or heat) to the sensitive skin on the inside of the wrist, providing full-body relief. The device, which sells for € $299is already being touted as a way to manage menopausal hot flashes.
But once the algorithm is added, the device will be able to “continuously monitor physiological signals – skin temperature, body temperature, sweating, activity level or heart rate – and identify early indicators of a hot flash,” says Michael SoPhD, director of the Center for Human Health and Performance at UMass Amherst, who led the team that developed the algorithm.
That data would be sent to a cloud computing platform, where the algorithm can spot signs of an impending hot flash, Busa said. The device would automatically provide cooling in less than a second, which could effectively stop the hot flash or at least help take the edge off.
Research into cooling therapy for hot flashes
“There is always tremendous interest in anything non-hormonal and effective in treating hot flashes,” he says Karen Adams, MD, gynecologist and director of the Menopause and Healthy Aging Program at Stanford University. (Adams was not involved in the development of this technology.)
Hormone therapy is the primary treatment, relieving hot flashes within 3 to 4 weeks, Adams said. “But some women don’t want to use estrogen, or shouldn’t because of medical contraindications.”
Hormone therapy is generally not recommended for people with a history of breast cancer, blood clots, or diseases of their heart or blood vessels. Recent research presented at the annual meeting of the Menopause Society showed that Hormone therapy may not work as well in obese women.
For non-hormonal treatments, the FDA has approved the oral medications fezolinetant (Veozah) in May. Antidepressants can also be used as a first-line treatment in people who cannot use estrogen. Another oral drug, elinzanetant, is in late-stage clinical trials.
But there has been little clinical research – only two small studies, Adams said – exploring cooling therapy as a treatment for hot flashes. That’s something the makers of this device hope to change.
“Despite the fact that cooling-seeking is a woman’s immediate natural response to the onset of a hot flash, there has been limited research to understand the benefits of this natural therapy,” said Matthew Smith, PhD, chief technology officer at Embr Labs. “This is partly because the technology didn’t exist to deliver cooling in an immediate, reproducible way.”
The algorithm’s performance was benchmarked using data from women with hot flashes, Smith said. The results have been submitted for publication.
The Embr Wave has been shown to help menopausal women with hot flashes sleep better. It has also been tested as a therapy for hot flashes associated with cancer treatment.
But to truly evaluate the device as a treatment for hot flashes, it needs to be tested in randomized trials, including a “dummy treatment arm” — where some people get the real treatment while others get the dummy treatment, Adams said.
“Device studies typically have high placebo response rates that can only be truly evaluated if there is a dummy treatment in the study,” she said. “If such a device were found to be safe and effective, we would absolutely recommend it. But we are still a long way from that.”