UT scientists developing device to measure heart disease risk from home

UT graduate students Nicole Pollok and Molly Kogan discuss the research project they are working on through an NIH grant. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).
UT graduate students Nicole Pollok and Molly Kogan discuss the research project they are working on through an NIH grant. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Researchers in UT Austin’s chemistry department have been tasked with creating a device to help those with heart disease measure the stress on their heart from home.

This team, led by UT professor Richard M. Crooks, is designing the product to be affordable and easy to use.

In October, the University of Texas announced that the National Institutes of Health awarded these scientists $2 million to create a product that will allow those with heart disease to monitor their heart health from home. The scientists say the device will work similar to the glucose meters diabetics use.

Patients will be able to buy an electronic reader for this product at drug stores — the reader only needs to be purchased once — and then they can purchase disposable paper sensors to refill the reader as needed. Those with heart disease will prick their finger and the blood will go onto the paper, then the reader will indicate to the patient through LED lights how much stress their heart is currently under.

Patients would only need to test themselves with this device once every week or two, the researchers said. Electrodes placed on the paper help to indicate whether the patient’s heart is creating a byproduct from being under a large amount of stress. The researchers hope this will let the patient know immediately if they need to go to the emergency room and to give the patient piece of mind if their levels are normal.

To make sure their product will be effective, the researchers are running control experiments in the lab. Currently they are hooking the paper sensors up to large wires and computers, but they explained that the NIH grant covers the funds for them to collaborate with another party over the next several years to create a smaller product that will “fit in your palm.”

“The idea is that people at home who suffer from heart failure have better control over this disease from the comfort of their home without having to go to the hospital, which is expensive,” explained Nicole Pollok, one of the UT graduate students creating the product. Pollok says they are aiming to have a tangible version of the product available within two years, and would like to have the product on the shelves in five years.

UT graduate students Nicole Pollok and Molly Kogan discuss the research project they are working on through an NIH grant. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).
UT graduate students Nicole Pollok and Molly Kogan discuss the research project they are working on through an NIH grant. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

“I personally want to see this on the shelf in Walmart in the pharmacy section,” Pollok said.

This lab group at UT surveyed cardiologists and patients and found common themes in their needs relating to heart disease.

“The doctors want to help their patients without them coming to the hospital, and the patients want to have more control over their own detection and also limit the cost of a hospital,” explained Molly Kogan, one of the UT graduate students creating the product. “Hospitals are losing a lot of money with patients who keep on going back to the hospital because their problems aren’t addressed.”

Neither Pollok nor Kogan have heart disease, but they are both motivated to create this product by the millions who do.

“This is really just to help out other people,” Pollok said. “It’s pretty rewarding to think that what we’re working on is something that could potentially be helping someone out potentially down the road.”

According to the American Heart Association, 6.5 million Americans have heart failure. Dr. Raymond Bietry, a heart failure cardiologist with Seton, explained that heart disease is common and on the rise, both in the U.S. and internationally. Bietry explained that heart failure patients are typically advised to take medication and monitor risk factors like coronary artery disease and high blood pressure

“There is a trend that heart failure is a disease that requires intensive and multidisciplinary management,” Bietry said. “Treatment beyond a prescription is essential to find success in heart failure.”

Because there are so many complicated elements which factor into monitoring heart health, the UT researchers hope that their product can give patients more control over monitoring their health.

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