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The Phone Oximeter™ development gets scaled up with $2-million investment

March 24, 2014
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CFRI researchers and LionsGate Technologies recently secured a $2-million investment to scale up development of the Phone Oximeter™, an app and medical sensor that turns a smartphone, tablet computer or laptop into a simple, affordable and sophisticated medical-grade diagnostic tool.

Grand Challenges Canada, a federal funding program seeking new ideas for improving health in the developing world, is providing $1 million for the roll-out, matched by $1 million from a group of investors led by Vancouver-based Coleco Investments.

The money is being provided to LionsGate Technologies — a spin-off of UBC, the Child & Family Research Institute and BC Children’s Hospital — that will manufacture the device. 

CFRI scientists Dr. Mark Ansermino, Dr. Guy Dumont, and Dr. Peter von Dadelszen developed the Phone Oximeter™ and are lead researchers with LionsGate Technologies.

Inexpensive and easy-to-use, the Phone Oximeter™ provides non-invasive measurements of blood oxygen levels with only a light sensor that attaches to a patient’s finger and a mobile phone. For community-level workers in the developing world, it can turn a mobile device into a diagnostic tool that’s otherwise only available in hospitals.

Currently, CFRI researchers are investigating the use of the Phone Oximeter™ in a number of areas:

Pre-eclampsia

  • Dr. von Dadelszen and the PIERS (Pre-eclampsia Integrated Estimate of RiSk) team are testing the Phone OximeterTM as a tool for predicting serious complications from pre-eclampsia in rural and remote areas.
  • Every year, pre-eclampsia and related complications take the lives of approximately 76,000 pregnant women and cause more than 500,000 miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths worldwide.

Pneumonia

  • Dr. Ansermino and Dr. Dumont are investigating the use of the Phone Oximeter™ to save lives and improve care for children in the developing world who have pneumonia. Simply, the app will help health care workers diagnose dangerously low oxygen levels 
     and identify children who need to be transferred to a larger health care centre.
  • Pneumonia kills more than 1.1- million children under 5 years of age every year; almost all of those deaths occur in developing countries with few health care resources. 

Sleep apnea

  • Dr. Ansermino and Dr. Dumont and their research teams are also investigating the use of the Phone Oximeter™ to create an at-home sleep apnea diagnostic test. Currently, diagnosing sleep apnea requires a comprehensive sleep laboratory, an overnight stay and approximately $500-1000 per night in direct health care costs alone. 
  • An at-home diagnostic test would improve access and reduce costs for children and families living in rural areas of B.C. who would have otherwise had to travel for testing.
  • According to the World Health Organization, 2-3 per cent of children have sleep apnea. The lack of oxygen during sleep can lead to daytime sleepiness, growth failure, heart failure, behavioural problems and developmental delay.

Its implications for global health are so significant that the Phone Oximeter™ was recently selected by Seattle-based NGO PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health) as one of the ten breakthrough health innovations that will help developing countries reach the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

This is the first investment under a new $10-million strategic partnership between Grand Challenges Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development aimed at accelerating the scale up of highly promising health innovations for developing countries.

Dr. Mark Ansermino is a CFRI Senior Associate Clinician Scientist and Director of the Innovations in Acute Care & Technology (iACT) research cluster; Director of Research for Pediatric Anesthesia at BC Children’s Hospital; co-director of Electrical & Computer Engineering in Medicine at UBC; and Associate Professor with the UBC Department of Anesthesia.

Dr. Guy Dumont is a CFRI Scientist with the iACT research cluster and co-director of Electrical & Computer Engineering in Medicine at UBC.

Dr. Peter von Dadelszen is a senior clinician scientist with the Reproduction & Healthy Pregnancy Cluster at CFRI, a consultant in Maternal Fetal Medicine at BC Women's Hospital & Health Centre, and a professor with the UBC Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology.