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Startup Aims to Build a Blood Pressure Sensor into Smartphones

A Swiss medical device company startup is designing a sensor that uses a smartphone to monitor and report on heart rate, respiration rate, blood oxygenation, temperature, and blood pressure. Leman Micro Devices is starting trials to submit the device for clearance with several regulators around the world and wants to license the technology to major smartphone companies to integrate the sensors into their phones within a few years.

The company is trying to adapt the “old science” of taking blood pressure measurements into the smartphone. The old science involves using traditional blood pressure cuffs around the patient’s upper arm to see at what pressure the blood flows stops and starts, when the heart is pumping, and when it’s relaxed. The company is working to engineer the sensor to make it low cost and integrated into the smartphone without requiring additional hardware.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that high blood pressure is very common – affecting about one in three adults in the US – and dangerous because of the link to heart attack and stroke. Often, people with high blood pressure have no warning signs or symptoms so many do not know they have it. However, if individuals know their condition, they can take steps to manage high blood pressure through lifestyle and medication.

Analysis: Biosensing wearables for consumers and smartphone-based laboratory and diagnostic equipment for physician use could transform health care in the coming years. Researchers at the University of Washington are developing a portable sensor that uses a smartphone camera to detect a biological indicator for several types of cancer. At Columbia University, researchers have developed a smartphone accessory called a “dongle” that can perform much like a lab-based blood test to detect syphilis and HIV markers from a finger prick.

Affordable, portable testing for HIV and other diseases could revolutionize public health, presuming the results are accurate. In the developed world, the prospect of consumers having direct access to medical and possibly genomic testing elicits both applause and concern. Consumer education and privacy protections will need to be in place to both assure that consumers use the information appropriately and with confidence. For example, it is important for consumers to learn about the results and take recommended actions. Privacy and security concerns will also continue to shape discussions around mobile and connected health.


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