ToucHb shines light on anaemia

Hand-held device simplifies monitoring of treatment on a regular basis

December 24, 2012 03:45 am | Updated 03:52 am IST - TEXAS:

World Bank reports that more than two billion people in the developing world suffer from anaemia. While it is closely linked to nutrition, it’s not fatal.

Doctors Abhishek Sen and Yogesh Patil, who interned in different districts in western and central India, have first-hand experience of the issue. They realised that often the real problem was not just diagnosis or treatment but lack of active monitoring,data and feedback to the patient and the caregiver on how they are responding to treatment.

It was to address this issue that they, along with Myshkin Ingawale, a Ph.D from IIM Calcutta, created ToucHb, a hand-held needle-free battery operated device that enables screening of anaemia and simplifies monitoring of treatment on a regular basis.

ToucHb works by shining light of different wavelengths through the tissue of the patient’s finger. Haemoglobin has a characteristic absorbance. Understanding the spectrum and understanding what signals to filter out, ToucHb determines the concentration of haemoglobin in the tissue.

The technique is similar to the one used in pulse oximeters, for the estimation of oxygen saturation.

Oximeters are instruments that measure oxygen in arterial blood.

ToucHb measures total haemoglobin which a pulse oximeter can’t do. Besides haemoglobin, it measures oxygen saturation, temperature and pulse rate as well. The total blood haemoglobin is used for anaemia diagnosis.

The WHO qualifies any pregnant woman with a Hb level of less than 11 grams a decilitre of blood as anaemic.

“It took us 32 attempts before the results satisfied us,” says Dr. Ingawale. “We’re excited by the words ‘non-invasive’ and ‘point of care.’ I truly believe that there is a revolution underway in medical technologies similar to what mobile phones have enabled.”

ToucHb, now being tested out in different hospitals, is marketed by Biosense Technologies, formed by Dr. Ingawale, Dr. Abhishek Sen and Dr. Yogesh Patil and Aman Midha, a former interior designer from Tata Motors.

“ToucHb makes sense for resource poor population that takes anaemia for granted among women,” says Dr. Ingawale.

“Compliance is shocking is most parts. Anaemia is not a condition that is well understood. Its symptoms of lethargy, nausea, tiredness are often mistaken as natural for pregnant women.”

The team ultimately hopes that such simple tools of motoring will enable preventive healthcare in a meaningful way for a large proportion of populations living in the developing countries.

“We are planning to scale the production from 30-40 a batch to more than 1000 a batch. But this involves making process, putting in place quality management systems and that will take time,” says Dr. Ingawale.

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