Local smartwatch innovation could soon help seniors monitor for COVID-19 symptoms

By Mike Vlasveld

An Ottawa entrepreneur is winning awards for the design of a new medical smartwatch that she says could serve as an early stage COVID-19 prediction and monitoring solution in long-term care homes by the end of the summer.

Azadeh Dastmalchi, 34, is a PhD candidate in the department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Ottawa, and CEO and co-founder of VitalTracer, which makes the VTLAB smartwatch. 

Before COVID-19 hit North America, she'd already been designing the first ever medical-grade smartwatch that continuously measures blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen saturation, body temperature, as well as electrocardiogram (ECG) and photoplethysmography (PPG) signals. 

What Dastmalchi says sets it apart from other remote monitoring solutions is its ability to perform all tasks from a cost-effective, low-power smartwatch, without the need to switch to a blood pressure cuff or use a tablet.

“We originally came up with the idea to combine biosensors and artificial intelligence to monitor blood pressure from the wrist, but we quickly discovered that our approach lent itself well to measuring other vital signs as well,” Dastmalchi explains.

The PhD candidate thinks it could be a game changer for personalized medicine.

“Due to the pandemic, seniors in long-term care facilities are suffering, and to stay safe, they need to monitor their vital signs daily, which is a very difficult and time-consuming task,” says the entrepreneur. “Our device is tailor-made to help.”

VitalTracer says, thanks to its ability to track bio-signals, the smartwatch can provide real-time monitoring of flu-like symptoms such as heart rate, fever, cough and increased sleep so that any COVID-19 cases can be detected early and effectively isolated. At the same time, the smartwatch is expected to provide monitoring of hypotension, low blood oxygen saturation and recurring fever to proactively monitor long-term care residents who test positive as a way to enhance their care and improve outcomes.

The company expects to have a COVID-19 version of its product ready for Canadian researchers to use in long-term care settings by the end of this summer, including a version that can be worn like a patch by people who suffer from dementia.

Dastmalchi is one of five winners of the Mitacs Entrepreneur Awards who are being recognized for their efforts to turn their research into an innovative business that impacts the lives of Canadians.

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