image00Wearable activity monitors are taking mobile health and digital technology conferences by storm. But instead of remembering to wear it like jewelry, what if you could just wear it as part of your everyday fashion?

Sensoria (formerly Heapsylon), a company that produces wearable health-sensing socks, sports bras, and T-shirts, is aiming to do this. And others are buying in: the company recently raised $5 million from investors. Sensors embedded in the fabric track the wearer’s heart rate, activity, and running form, intended for professional athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and more.

iMedicalApps recently caught up with Sensoria to discuss the advantages of wearable embedded technology, and how it boosts the function of medical apps.

What can doctors do with Sensoria?

Paola Sciarra: We don’t disrupt the user workflow. You wake up, wash your face, and wear your sock, wear your T-shirt, so we’re already integrated in the user workflow. It’s not something else others need to know. This is a challenge for elderly monitoring. They just don’t use it or use the data. You want an automatic system they don’t have to learn and they already do. In this case, with the sock we can detect time-gait analysis, we can detect cadence, pace, and we can combine the data from the sports bra and T-shirt, and we can detect the stress level.

There are different applications in healthcare, [such as]:

  • occupational health
  • decubitus ulcers
  • diabetic foot complications
  • peripheral neuropathy
  • fall prevention and detection
  • prosthetics and orthotics

There are lots of interest in rehabilitation. When people have hip replacement [for instance], they can’t put too much weight on their foot. How would you know if your patient puts more than 20% of their weight on their foot? Right now, you can’t.

Who have been your customers so far?

Paola Sciarra: For now, the quantified self fanatics, the runner preparing for a marathon recovering from an injury or someone [trying to] prevent their injury. Perhaps they had knee pain, and they want to improve their running form. We have several developer-physicians using the technology.

Are there other competitors?

Paola Sciarra: There are other companies doing T-shirts mainly, but no other companies doing socks. And again, the kind of data set we can gather is more elaborate, because we get data from T-shirts, from the foot, so it’s a more accurate view of the patient.

So is there any research that already backs this?

Paola Sciarra: Not about Sensoria specifically. There was research conducted by Mayo Clinic using a Fitbit for elderly patient monitoring and they placed the fitbit on the ankle. But still, the Fitbit is a device with an accelerometer with a lot of false positives because you don’t know if the patient is dropping it.

We combine an accelerometer plus pressure sensors, so we know if someone fell, or just dropped the device.

Davide Vigano, CEO: There’s lots of interest from academic researchers. Some researchers at the Department of Defense level have applied for grants, and that’s exciting. The cool thing about our technology is that we have a fantastic opportunity to do well and do good. Think of the VA with diabetes, or leveraging our sensors and orthotics.

If you think about it, that’s the power of any technology that becomes pervasive. It has to be invisible to the eye, and nearly undetectable. We spent years developing this technology. One of the big challenges is that with medical devices, they don’t get used. Adherence and compliance is a major issue. What about creating garments that people will want to wear?

That’s an interesting way to get around the behavior change problem.

Davide Vigano, CEO: Why not inject this technology into what people want to wear, instead of forcing behavior change?
Tell me about the engineering that went into Sensoria.

Davide Vigano: There are lots of doctors who refer to gait as the 6th vital sign. Doctors, clinicians, and researchers have been looking at smart ways [to measure] gait, speed, and quality for years. Unlike heart rate, where we’ve been collecting heart rate data for 60 years by now, for gait, the patient has to go into the clinic, and someone is watching him. We think the human foot is underserved by technology.

Rehab is a huge one. Fall detection, fall prevention, diabetes is a 3rd one. And any neurological diseases that have gait impact or degeneration or negative impact on how people walk really — multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. Wouldn’t it be nice to know if the patient has left the bed, or is wandering around?

But doesn’t the anklet need to be placed on? That’s something the user would have to get used to putting on.

Davide Vigano: Today, we still need batteries to power the sensors and drive the data out of the garment. What you have is the anklet. It connects magnetically to the sock. In 6 months, [we anticipate] the device will be 30% smaller and a lot more powerful.

You have all the benefits of a technical sock, as a sports sock.

Anything else our readers should know?

We are seeking partnerships with researchers and medical device companies. We are geeks, technical people. We’re not clinicians or researchers. It has to be proven by research. So we’re seeking partnerships in this area. We’ve built the Sensoria Development Kit because we have soft and hard components. So the main goal of us being at Health 2.0 is to establish partnerships because there are so many areas. But we do have an SDK enabling this company to do a clinical study on that specific area.

The regulatory process is not challenging for a sock. It’s more, “Is it going to be doing the right things, and what are the right claims for that specific scenario.”

How can people get started with developing apps for Sensoria? Or, say, research?

You can leverage our own application. But if you want to enable another clinical [use], you should buy an SDK. We offer technical support and technology for this.