In the time it takes to brush his teeth in the morning, a diabetes patient could also check for a major complication of the disease — foot ulcers — with only a little extra effort.
That’s the concept behind Podimetrics, a Boston-based startup that’s developing an early warning system to predict and prevent diabetic foot ulcers.
Its first product is a sensor-enabled mat intended to be placed in the bathroom of a diabetes patient. When the patient steps on the mat, sensors scan his feet to collect data about blood flow and sends that data to the cloud to be stored and analyzed. The company’s algorithms look at that data in two ways: longitudinally over time and comparatively between the left and right foot to detect patterns that may indicate the presence of a developing ulcer, said Podimetrics co-founder Jeff Engler.
When the algorithms detect a pre-ulcer, an alert will be sent to the patient and his doctor so that the necessary intervention can take place early on. The device takes about 30 seconds to use each day — comparable to the amount of time a person would spend at the bathroom sink, Engler said.
Diabetes can damage the nerves and blood vessels in the feet, and cause numbness that may lead some diabetics to not notice blisters, bruises or cuts. Also, the circulation problems associated with the disease can cause wounds to not heal properly, which in turn can cause those blisters, bruises or cuts to become infected. Diabetic foot ulcers occur in as many as one-quarter of people with diabetes and account for 85 percent of lower leg amputations in the U.S.
“These are terrible conditions — that’s the thing that we care about most,” Engler said. “At the same time, it’s an expensive problem.” The company wants to work with insurance providers to stratify their patients into high-risk groups so that it can make its device accessible to the people who are most likely to get foot ulcers. It’s built a number of prototypes and back-end algorithms, and is now setting up to make professional quality versions of the mats so it can begin pilots, he said.
Usually detected during examinations of the feet, diabetic foot ulcers are also the target of a few other recent medical innovations. Venowave Inc., for example, makes a device that’s strapped to the calf to stimulate blood flow. The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center is testing a therapeutic stocking in high-risk patients. And Texas company Xilas Medical Inc. markets a similar device that monitors temperature in the feet. But what Podimetrics has done is snuck its technology into the daily routine of patients, requiring little extra effort on their part.
The Podimetrics team, comprising six members with medical, business, technology and engineering backgrounds, first met at the MIT Hacking Medicine conference last October. They originally developed a shoe insole, but decided on something more universal and simple with the mat. This spring, the company was a finalist in the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. Now, it’s going through the Rock Health Boston accelerator program, which has its Demo Day next Friday.
[Photo from Flickr user Jake Gagne]