The truth at your fingertips
13 June 2005
UCL spin-out company Health-Smart is developing a series of revolutionary new sensors which could radically change the way in which chronic diseases are managed.
Professor Leon G Fine, Dean of the Faculty of Clinical Sciences, who is Chairman of the company, said: "We are creating a platform technology which empowers individuals to get an insight into their own state of health. Most of the devices on the market today tend to capture information and then send it to a medical expert who will decide what it means, before analysing it and taking any appropriate action. What we've done is put that information in the hands of the user in the most simple way - you literally look at your mobile phone and you've got the information there - you can see your heart rate, you've got an electro cardiogram and you'll be able to measure your blood pressure."
The heart rate sensor, for example, fits around the user's finger and measures the variability of the their heart rate. Using the same principle as a lie detector, the device measures electrodermal activity that then translates on to the phone screen as a series of wavy lines. If the wearer is stressed or has something wrong with their heart the screen will fail to show normal variability in the heart rate; conversely, if the user is healthy or unstressed they will be able to see normal activity on the screen and they should be able to watch this pattern improve as they lessen their stress levels.
While the products will appeal to health-conscious individuals who want to monitor their health and perhaps modify their behaviour accordingly, they could also significantly reduce primary care costs: "There are millions of high blood pressure sufferers around the world who regularly visit their doctors to have their blood pressure measured, but who don't know what their blood pressure is in the interim period. This technology would enable a large population of people, with very little effort and minor expense, to get a blood pressure reading at any point. Chronic disease management is one of the main big costs in healthcare and by introducing this technology we could nip things in the bud, or find out if things aren't going quite right at an early stage, thus making considerable savings."
Potentially, sensors could be developed to monitor other life-threatening diseases: "We plan to expand this technology to embrace other things, for instance a device for asthmatics to measure how easily they can move air in and out of their lungs, and a simple way of measuring glucose levels in diabetics."
Health-Smart, led by its CEO, Tuvi Orbach, the founder of a number of public companies, is a company which brings an external group of scientists, technologists and engineers together with experts on health promotion and disease prevention in the Medical School. The research and development for the product is being carried out at the Royal Free Hospital and a number of patents have been filed. Prototypes of two of the three sensors are now ready for clinical trials and it is hoped the company will complete the next round of funding within six to nine months.
Images: Top - Mobile phone using Health-Smart technology. Bottom - Professor Leon G Fine.