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Phone oximeter, A UBC invention, gets scaled up

Tiny sensor turns smartphone into life-saving device, University of British Columbia Reveals.

Phone oximeter, A UBC invention, gets scaled up

Vancouver, BC, Canada - A medical technology invented by UBC faculty members has received major funding to scale up production and distribution to the developing world. 

Developed by Mark Ansermino, associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology, and Therapeutics, and Guy Dumont, professor in the faculty of Applied Science, the Phone Oximeter measures blood oxygen levels through a light sensor attached to a person’s fingertip. The sensor connects to a smartphone, tablet, or laptop equipped with Phone Oximeter software, which analyzes and interprets the data for the user, with intuitive, symbols-based displays. 

Grand Challenges Canada, a federal funding program seeking new ideas for improving health in the developing world, is providing $1 million for the rollout, 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. 

The funding will enable LionsGate Technologies to supply Phone Oximeters for a trial involving 80,000 women in four countries – India, Pakistan, Mozambique, and Nigeria – to assess the technology’s usefulness in diagnosing high blood pressure during pregnancy, or pre-eclampsia. It’s the second-leading cause of maternal death worldwide, killing 76,000 women a year – almost of all of them in low- and middle-income countries. 

Low oxygen levels in the blood, or hypoxia, is one of the symptoms of pre-eclampsia. The application will calculate a risk score, using both the pulse oximeter readings and other data that is manually entered by health workers. That score – developed by Peter von Dadelszen, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology – provides advice about next steps, including treatment or referral. 

The Phone Oximeter can also reveal dangerously low oxygen levels in patients with pneumonia, which kills more than 1 million children annually. 

LionsGate Technologies intends to sell the device for $40 per unit – 80% less expensive than any other device with comparable accuracy. 

“It became clear to us that producing this through a for-profit company was the only way to make it sustainable,” said Ansermino, a co-founder with Dumont of LionsGate Technologies, and the company’s chief medical officer. “The primary purpose of the business, however, is not to make a profit. It’s to make an impact.” 

The company will also fund ongoing research to expand the device’s potential by UBC’s Electrical & Computer Engineering in Medicine group, which is led by Dumont and Ansermino. 

After initial funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the innovation was subsequently awarded a seed grant in 2011 by Saving Lives at Birth, a partnership between Grand Challenges Canada (GCC), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), the Government of Norway, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Grand Challenges Canada extended additional funding in 2012 through a proof-of-concept grant. 

Source: LionsGate Technologies

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