Pulsify Medical, a joint imec and KU Leuven spin-off, has closed a seed funding round of €2.6 million. The investment, led by imec.xpand and KU Leuven, will be used to develop a wearable ultrasound patch to non-invasively monitor organs like the heart.
Measuring a beating heart
When a patient is rushed into the intensive care unit (ICU) of a hospital, every second counts. One of the first things the medical staff will do is check the patient’s vital signs, such as their pulse, breathing and blood pressure. Obtaining a fast, accurate readout of physiological parameters can make the difference between life and death in emergency situations.
Along with basic heart rate and blood pressure, another important indicator of the heart’s performance is its cardiac output. This is a measure of the volume of blood being pumped by the heart, usually denoted in liters per minute (L/min).
Despite the importance of the measurement, current methods for obtaining the cardiac output come with serious drawbacks. For continuous monitoring, doctors can either insert a catheter intravenously, a risky and time-consuming procedure, or they can insert a probe via the esophagus, which is less invasive but highly uncomfortable for the patient.
The product we are developing... will be filling an unmet need in ICUs and hospitals across the world. - Iwan Van Vijfeijken, Pulsify Medical
Traditional ultrasound is a far less invasive alternative but doesn’t allow for continuous monitoring. It involves using a probe, the same way as when examining a fetus during pregnancy, meaning that a well trained professional needs to be present at all times, to position the probe and interpret the results. This method therefore is not practical in an emergency setting like the ICU.
A digital healthcare solution
There is clearly a need for a better heart monitoring option. This is where the Pulsify Medical patch can make a lifesaving difference. Iwan Van Vijfeijken, CEO of the start-up, explained:
“The product we are developing will allow doctors in ICUs to quickly attach a patch to the patient’s chest and continuously monitor their cardiac output. This disruptive technology will be filling an unmet need in ICUs and hospitals across the world.”
The Pulsify patch is simple enough in principle: the basis is an array of ultrasound transducers, each consisting of essentially a speaker and a microphone, contained in a patch roughly the size of a postcard. The soundwaves generated by the speaker penetrate the chest and reflect back from different tissues, including the heart muscle. The microphone then picks up the echoes and uses a set of algorithms to build up a 3D picture of the heart in action.
We need both the semi-conductor technology from imec and the smart software from KU Leuven. The combination of imec’s technology and KU Leuven’s expertise is a world first. - Steve Stoffels, Pulsify Medical
A calculation of the cardiac output can then be done, with a monitor displaying a simple numerical readout (like with blood pressure or heart rate) for the doctors. These algorithms are optimized to extract the critical physiological parameters, in the most efficient fashion, before presenting the output to the health care professionals in a succinct manner. The whole system is a perfect example of digitalization of healthcare.
Powered by a unique partnership
Deceptively simple, the Pulsify patch has nonetheless only been made possible through the collaboration between the high-tech powerhouse imec and imaging experts at KU Leuven. Though there are other big international players in the ultrasound space, such as Phillips and Siemens, the specific expertise and proprietary technology required to make this patch is unique to imec and KU Leuven.
Imec’s flexible ultrasonic transducer technology, originally conceived by Dr. Xavier Rottenberg, and patented chip technology are what enable the integration of the sound wave system of a small-scale ultrasound device into a flexible structure, such as the skin patch.
For the first time, we will have access to long-term continuous monitoring data [for cardiac output]. I’m convinced that, over time, these data will be extremely valuable. - Iwan Van Vijfeijken, Pulsify Medical
One of the Pulsify’s founders, Professor Jan D'hooge (KU Leuven, University Hospitals Leuven) is world famous in the field of ultrasound imaging of the heart. The development of a smart algorithm to interpret ultrasound images of the heart and convert them into quantified parameters, was made possible thanks to D’hooge’s academic team. Cardiologist Lieven Herbots of the Jessa Hospital (Hasselt) is also working closely with Pulsify Medical on the clinical aspects.
Dr. Steve Stoffels, VP of Technology, elaborated on the synergy of the partnership:
“Imec and KU Leuven bring unique knowledge, competency and intellectual property that is needed to make this system work. We need both the semi-conductor technology from imec and the smart software from KU Leuven. The combination of imec’s technology and KU Leuven’s expertise is a world first.”
A range of applications
With proof of concept and their initial funding established, the next steps for Pulsify Medical will be to develop the technology further, before moving into product development and clinical validation with patients. Van Vijfeijken, who has over 25 years of experience in medtech and the life sciences, is expecting this to take a typical 3-4 years.
For more on medical devices, read this previous BioVox article on a lazer-based technology for diagnosing cardiovascular disease.
Although the primary application for the Pulsify patch is cardiac monitoring in the ICU, a wireless version of the patch is also being developed for patients in hospital wards and in a home setting. Furthermore, Van Vijfeijken hinted at a potential consumer application: the patch has the potential to improve training regimes for elite athletes who compete in endurance sports like cycling or marathon running.
Whether it is being used to save lives or improve athletic performance, Van Vijfeijken is convinced that the information being gathered by the patch will be invaluable for future cardiological research:
“This device will generate a lot of data that will be very interesting for the medical and scientific community. For the first time, we will have access to long-term continuous monitoring data. I’m convinced that, over time, these data will be extremely valuable.”
Of course, the number one priority is improving conditions in ICUs, where the Pulsify patch will undoubtedly save lives.
Header Image: Standing (left to right): Dr. Xavier Rottenberg, Scientific Director at imec, Mr. Iwan van Vijfeijken (CEO at Pulsify Medical), Prof. Jan D’hooge (KU Leuven, University Hospitals Leuven). Kneeling (left to right): Dr. Steve Stoffels (VP Technology at Pulsify Medical), Dr. Lieven Herbots (Jessa Hospital, University Hospital Leuven). Courtesy of Pulsify Medical.
This article was sponsored by Pulsify Medical.