Healthy heart a smartphone away

02:25, Jun 23 2013
HEART HEALTH: Potential probed of microchips being inserted via catheter on to the heart’s inner lining from where a signal would be sent to the patient’s phone.

Smarthphones that warn people of an impending heart attack could change the way we manage healthcare for good.

The new technology is based on nano-thin silicon heart-and blood-monitoring "tattoos" on people's arms that will send a signal to a smartphone if the data indicates a health problem.

In essence, a patient would detect an upcoming heart attack on their smartphone before it even happened.

"Then they could get to hospital, already having self-diagnosed themselves and acted before it's too late," Silicon Valley digital entrepreneur, and Kiwi, Zak Holdsworth said.

Leading heart surgeon and Waikato Hospital clinical director, Adam El Gamel, is enthusiastic about the technology, saying it would save a lot of time and money.

"It's a dream. A lot of cost is incurred by patients going to a clinic or GP, not only the fees but taking time off work.


"Instead, by looking at a computer I could see what their blood's doing today and send them a text message if they need to do anything."

It would give doctors better insight into patients' behaviour, blood pressure and stress levels, he said.

"We only get a snapshot when someone comes in; they could be calm at the clinic because they're not working.

"But what happens when they're home fighting with their teenage daughter?"

Holdsworth reckons we don't have long to wait to access such technology.

"At a basic level this technology is available in watches that measure your heart rate and perspiration, they're on the market already."

Holdsworth, a former Canterbury University electrical engineering student, has been working in San Francisco to help bring such technology to market. He will return to Auckland this week to speak at a Technology Challenging Society series: "Engineering Your Health".

He reckons heart patients could be sporting the "tattoos" on their arms within five years, and we could be sporting the technology inside our hearts in 10.

MC10 is the Boston-based technology company behind the tattoos. It's now investigating the potential of microchips being inserted via catheter on to the heart's inner lining from where a signal would be sent to the patient's phone.

"For example, a patient who has a history of cardiovascular disease could be informed, in real time, that they have elevated levels of phosphorus in their blood, which can be a leading indicator for a possible heart attack," Holdsworth said.

Other ground-breaking health gadgets being developed include disposable computer chips that would let us test our blood one drop at a time and which could drastically cut down laboratory waiting times.

The $10 procedure involving a simple finger prick could provide huge amounts of data, and be particularly beneficial for people with diabetes, Holdsworth said.

"It's something consumers can do in their home while brushing their teeth."

He imagines the technology would be harnessed by hospitals before becoming directly available to consumers.

Personalised drugs that target certain genes could do wonders in the treatment of cancer or identification of genetic diseases in foetuses.

For the latter, research is under way into taking blood samples from the mother and separating out the baby's DNA, avoiding the invasive embryonic fluid testing that is the current practice.

And a Star Trek-style scanner, the Scanadu Tricorder, can read your vital signs and pick up whether or not you or your children are sick.

"Doctors in the future will be doing more and more complex stuff," Holdsworth said.

"I don't think you'll call the doctor when you have a cold. Patients will come in informed of what's going on."

DBut significant change in clinical practice and culture is needed to open the door for self-diagnosis technology, the founder of research company Coriolis Healthcare, Claudia Wyss said.

"There is a major need in the health sector to use technology to improve patient information access, increase care delivery at the home and improve health system operational effectiveness."

Sunday Star Times