Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Rumor mill: Apple wants to use sensors to detect heart attacks


February 17th 2014

More rumors about the supposed iWatch emerged this weekend with reports that Apple is working on technology to detect when someone was about to have a heart attack.

Reports say that the hardware/software combo, rumored to be spearheaded by a renowned audio engineer from Lucasfilm, would listen to the sound of blood flowing through the wrist. If the software would detect that an artery was clogged with plaque, the watch would issue an alert.

The idea may sound great, but like Google’s would-be contact lens for diabetes, it’s hard to imagine it becoming a reality any time soon.

Cholesterol levels, blood pressure and lifestyle factors can give doctors an indication of a person’s risk of heart attack, but actually predicting one when it’s about to happen is a different story.

Not surprisingly, Apple isn’t even close to being the first one to think of it.

Recent efforts for such technology include Swiss researchers who made a splash last year when they introduced an implantable chip they were working on to monitor molecules in the blood to detect heart attacks hours before they happen. Scripps Health got a grant from Qualcomm in 2012 to conduct clinical trials of a similar nanosensor device.

On the noninvasive side of things, professors at Stanford University prototyped a wearable pressure sensor the size of a stamp that they say can monitor the two peaks of pulse waves, which might be helpful in monitoring heart health. A company called iHealth is also reportedly working with cardiologists on a modified blood pressure cuff that would monitor endothelial function as an indicator of heart attack or stroke. Then there’s AUM Cardiovascular, which is developing an acoustic device that primary care doctors would use to check for blockage in the coronary artery.

But none of these technologies has made it to the market yet.

One shimmer of hope for Apple lies in stories about how physicians using the mobile ECG app AliveCor have been able to diagnose heart conditions on the fly. But being able to learn about arteries through the skin, and develop algorithms that function like a doctor to identify when something’s awry, would be a big leap.

Other, more realistic rumored features of the iWatch include an integrative heart rate sensor and an app that would track blood pressure, heart rate and hydration levels.

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