Partnership is Key Component in Wearable-Tech Development
Collaboration is at the heart of our work at RFU, and the university’s Innovation and Research Park (IRP) and Helix 51 incubator are hubs for research collaboration. RFU scientists and industry partners with expertise in a wide range of specializations are teaming up to translate lab discoveries into game-changing diagnostics and therapeutics.
The IRP’s Connie Cleary, DPM, director of innovation and industry relations, is a key facilitator for these research partnerships, with the support of Ronald S. Kaplan, PhD, RFU’s executive vice president for research. Dr. Cleary recently connected RFU scientists in need of specialized biosensors with AffirmXH, a medical device startup that develops technology for gathering, analyzing and responding to biometric data. AffirmXH is currently working on projects with researchers at the Center for Lower Extremity Ambulatory Research (CLEAR) and with Holly Hunsberger, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience.
“Our collaboration started with this idea I had about creating some kind of noninvasive, wearable tech for mice,” Dr. Hunsberger said. “There are ways to monitor animals that are invasive, or there are special cages that you can use. But there’s nothing that is truly noninvasive that tracks individual animals across their lifespan.”
“Our collaboration started with this idea I had about creating some kind of noninvasive, wearable tech for mice.”
Dr. Hunsberger and AffirmXH created a basic version of the animal monitoring device, using a sensor the company developed for monitoring fevers in infants. “That sensor records the baby’s temperature, and if it goes above a certain level, the sensor sends an alert to the parents’ smartphone,” Dr. Hunsberger explained.
“We used that idea as the basis for something similar with animals. We put the sensors in little ‘jackets’ and put the jackets on rats. The sensors recorded the rats’ temperatures while the rats were in their home cage, which demonstrated proof of concept that wearable tech could work for mice and rats.”
Dr. Hunsberger notes that this project is still in the very early stages. Next steps include securing grants to fund development and testing of a sensor that measures multiple data points, not just temperature. “We’re applying for a Department of Defense grant, and NIH funding through the National Institute on Aging. The grants would be used to shrink the sensor to a size small enough that it wouldn’t be noticed by the mouse wearing it. The goal is for AffirmXH to help us develop different prototypes once we secure funding.”
“We’re starting with all the great research that the CLEAR group has developed, and combining that with our background in creating products for commercial use.”
Cybersole Project: Next Steps
AffirmXH is also collaborating on an established project in development at RFU: CyberSole, an intelligent orthotic insole that measures the pressures exerted on the foot and adjusts its material properties to meet the wearer’s specific offloading needs throughout the day. Noah Rosenblatt, PhD, associate professor and Scholl College’s associate dean of research, and Ryan Crews, PhD, associate professor, CLEAR, have already established proof of concept and are now working with AffirmXH on a CyberSole prototype that can be developed into a finished product and brought to market.
“We’re starting with all the great research that the CLEAR group has developed, and combining that with our background in creating products for commercial use,” said Tom Hall, AffirmXH chief executive officer. “We’re currently testing various components to see how they work best in this type of insole. There’s lots of back-and-forth between our designers to determine the mechanical and electrical properties we need, and how we iterate on that to reach a point where we can say, ‘Yes, we can make this.’”
According to Mr. Hall, the current phase of the project involves identifying the specific characteristics needed to ensure appropriate responsiveness of the insoles to the pressures of the foot. He noted that this could be particularly helpful in minimizing or preventing “hotspots” that can develop into foot wounds in diabetic patients. “The next stage would be working with RFU to apply for grants to go ahead and start prototyping this, ultimately leading to a commercial product.”
Sara Skoog is a staff writer with the RFU Division of Marketing and Brand Management. In addition to writing for Helix and other university publications, she also produces Pulse, RFU’s monthly e-newsletter.