App spots life-threatening blood pressure spikes

Canadian smartphone app that could help save the lives of thousands of pregnant women in poorer countries has received investment of C$2m (£1m).

The Vancouver-based social enterprise behind the app, LionsGate Technologies, say it can read blood oxygen levels to hospital standards and so could be used to spot high-blood pressure that could cause life-threatening complications in pregnant women.

The app measures blood oxygen levels through a light sensor attached to a patient’s fingertip. Its inventors claim it can accurately identify around 80 per cent of cases high blood pressure-related pre-eclampsia, one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.

The “pulse oximetry” technology was developed by scientists Mark Ansermino, Guy Dumont and Peter von Dadelszen of the University of British Columbia and uses a predictive score to identify women at risk of pre-eclampsia.

Of an estimated 10 million pregnant women worldwide who develop pre-eclampsia each years, around 76,000 currently die from the condition and related complications. LionsGate hopes to bring this figure down by enabling pregnant women to measure their blood pressure at home.

The number of fetus and infant deaths due to these disorders is estimated at more than 500,000. ‘That equates to over 1,600 deaths of pregnant young women and babies every day – an unacceptable burden – and more than 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries – an issue of social justice,” said von Dadelszen in a statement.

The Phone Oximeter uses a light sensor on the finger to measure blood pressure.

The company claims the Phone Oximeter can also reveal dangerously low oxygen levels in patients with pneumonia, a condition that kills more than 1 million children annually.

LionsGate aims for the device to cost C$40 (£22), which it says would make it 80 per cent cheaper than any other device capable today of meeting high-level medical standards.

‘Through innovative engineering, we have been able to tap into the computing power of smartphones to produce medical-grade, low-cost monitoring systems amenable to widespread usage in low- and medium-resource countries,’ said Dumont in a statement.

The funding comprises a C$1m angel investment from Irfhan Rajani, CEO of Vancouver-based Coleco Investments, matched by a C$1m grant from Grand Challenges Canada, a government-funded scheme for supporting new technology that tackles major social and health problem, particularly in the developing world.