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A woman checking a health monitoring app on a smartwatch.

PHILADELPHIA—Continuous wrist temperature monitoring can uncover insights into the potential for future disease risk for ailments like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, liver disease, kidney failure, and more. These new findings from Perelman School of Medicine researchers, recently published in Nature Communications, shows that accurate, continued digital monitoring of skin temperature can give deeper medical insights.

Previously, disrupted temperature rhythms had only been linked to a handful of conditions, such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Now, this research provides insights from a large population, and it indicates a wider spectrum of conditions are associated with poor temperature rhythms, measured in wrist temperature amplitude (the difference between the minimum and maximum temperature over the course of 24 hours).

“These findings indicate the potential to marry emerging technology with health monitoring in a powerful new way,” said Carsten Skarke, MD, an adjunct associate professor of Medicine, Robert L. McNeil, Jr. fellow in Translational Medicine and Therapeutics, and the study’s senior author. “For example, there are many who have smart watches around their wrists, which already include skin temperature sensors. In the future, this information may be leveraged with their care teams as a digital biomarker, to understand their risk to develop certain diseases and to navigate treatment or preventative care options.”

In this study, one week of data from more than 92,000 UK Biobank participants were collected at home during typical daily activities, including sleep. The participants had their wrist temperature rhythms monitored which tracks the day to night changes of their wrist body temperature. This included both circadian as well as sleep-wake behavior, along with components impacted by environmental conditions, such as reduction of core temperature during periods of sleep.

The findings indicate that the daily peaks and valleys observed in one’s wrist temperature curve might matter for health. The flatter this landscape becomes the higher the risk for chronic diseases.

The researchers found that up to 73 different disease conditions were signi´Čücantly associated with decreased temperature rhythm, meaning that participants with a smaller day-night difference in their wrist temperature readings showed increased rates for a future onset of these diseases. Among the largest associations, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) emerged with a 91 percent increased risk for these participants, followed by Type 2 diabetes with 69 percent, renal failure with 25 percent, hypertension with 23 percent, and pneumonia with 22 percent. The research team took these data and compiled them into an easily searchable website, the Temperature Biorhythm Atlas.

“While temperature rhythms are only one aspect of one’s circadian health, these findings add to a growing body of work that shows the importance of maintaining healthy circadian habits, such as the consistent timing of sleep and physical activity,” said Thomas Brooks, PhD, the lead author and a research associate in Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at Penn.

Future studies may expand upon this work with additional data from new smartwatch-based measurements and include younger or more diverse participants, alongside additional investigations that target temperature rhythms, to better understand the underlying biology.

The UK Biobank provided data and investigative support for this study. The research was funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences Grant (5UL1TR000003), National Institute of Mental Health T32 Training grant (5T32MH106442-04), AHA Merit Award (17MERIT33560013), and the National Institutes of Health, National Institutes of Mental Health (R01MH098260, U01MH109991).

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Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.

The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.

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