The Pioneers Festival brings together entrepreneurs developing innovative technologies on May 24 & 25 in the Hofburg. One of their speakers is Ben Hwang of Profusa, a health tech company which revolutionizes the relationship our minds have with our bodies through a sensor implant, which provides a stream of live data directly from the body. We interviewed him about how technologies like his, are not only going to change the body/mind relationship but healthcare as a whole.
Could you please explain to readers who may not be familiar with the health tech industry why Profusa’s technology is revolutionary?
Hwang: The Profusa sensor platform provides long-term, continuous biochemistry information for an individual – basically the sensors will provide data that currently can only be obtained via a lab test, but done in a way that provides a continuous stream rather than in a point in time manner. Additionally, this data is captured via optic measurements through the skin so the data acquisition is done in the “background” and is non-invasive to the user.
The key innovation is that we’re developing sensors that are able to provide data that is trusted and meaningful, in a seamless fashion to the user (our sensors have been shown to function for MORE THAN 2 YEARS in humans, which is a transformative improvement over the current best-in-class of 2-7 DAYS), and at a very accessible cost.
How does Profusa’s technology revolutionize how we make sense of our bodies?
Hwang: Profusa sensors’ live streaming information helps the mind to understand the body better in two critical ways: first, it measures the key biochemistry within the body (e.g., how high is your glucose level) instead of physio-parameters (e.g., how many steps did you take). The biochemistry within your body is a much better indication of your physical state since your body is exquisitely good at maintaining a state of homeostasis that can be misleading or mask actual changes in your body. For example, you may feel very cold and would shiver, but your body does a good job in maintaining your core body temperature at 37 degrees.
Measuring your external physical actions would not necessarily give you an accurate indication of how your body is doing. By measuring the biochemistry directly we would understand the true state of your body much better. Secondly, the data stream is continuous in nature and therefore in real-time. This enables the user to form relationships concerning “causality” of biochemistry changes at the moment when those changes occur. The user’s mind can make real-time learnings and translate them into behavioral changes that can alter the body’s biochemical state.
So, for example, if I had a real-time glucose sensor in my body and it told me that my glucose level was trending towards to an unhealthy state when I had my favorite salad, I may take that information and either eat less of that salad or not. The feedback using real-time clinical-grade data is critical for each individual to make the connection between their actions and their body’s reaction to those actions. That is the key to connecting the mind to the body’s state – an active loop, rather than a passive observation.
Many doctors are concerned about increased admin work and a reduction of time spent with patients. How does Profusa address this problem, considering the implant provides them with even more information to make sense of?
Hwang: The key first step is to make measurements of chemistries or parameters which physicians already currently use to make medical decisions. So, we develop sensors that can measure tissue oxygen, glucose, lactate, pH, etc, direct measurements of the body’s chemistry that physicians use today to make therapeutic choices. The difference of the frequency of measurements is then not cumbersome as it is easy to establish algorithms that would trigger alarms at certain levels.
One of the reasons the potential increase in admin work is of concern is if sensors generate a ton of data in metrics that physicians don’t currently use today (e.g., steps, location, sweat). Then the ‘decision algorithms’ that physicians use in their practice will need to be modified in this case. We manage that by only developing sensors that will increase the ease and frequency of the data stream, but not increase the decision algorithm burden on the physician.
Since patients don’t have the medical knowledge of doctors to interpret the data, I’m really interested in how the app relays the data in a way that patients can understand?
Hwang: The key here is to have the algorithm in the background and provide information to the individuals via an interface that is easily understood – either to make a different choice, or to see a physician. So, using the glucose example again, we might present the data to the user in color bands (red if the glucose level is very high; yellow if moderately high; and green if normal).
The individual would then try to maximise the time their blood glucose level is in the green band and perhaps even compared to a larger population (e.g., “congratulations, in the past 24 hours your blood glucose levels have been in the healthy range for 83% of the time. Keep up the good work!” or “Your blood glucose level has been in the red for more than 50% of the time for the past 7 days. A care provider should speak with you..”.)
So with everything you’ve learned in developing this technology to understand the body better, what possible future developments in the health industry are you excited about?
Hwang: I am really excited about the possibility of having a continuous stream of the most important information we all have at our fingertips. The dramatic increase in data and information available to the world over the past 20 years has fundamentally changed all of our lives for the better. The pace of productivity and innovation around how we work, play, and learn have fundamentally been altered by the democratization of real-time meaningful information. Yet, that transformation has only happened to our external world – that which is outside of our body. Most of us only get a once-a-year peek at what’s happening inside our bodies when we visit our doctors. And I would argue that the most valuable and important information is that from within – how is your body REALLY doing. Having the “conversation” with your body and making real-time choices and action corrections can only happen if that data is available and in real-time and when it matters.
So, imagine the difference the internet has made to our lives, and then amplify those differences to our health – that’s the future and that’s what I’m really excited about. What this technology will mean to us is that the entire spectrum of stakeholders in the health care system will fundamentally alter the way they do things. From the patient who will be able to make many more health choices based on clinical-grade data, to the physicians who will be able to manage disease more effectively since they will have real-time information predicting bad outcomes before they arise. The providers and hospitals will be able to be more productive in resource management as fewer expensive examination rooms and ORs will need to be built since patients will only come into the hospital when they really need to.
The payers and insurance companies will be more precise in determining what disease management truly costs as treatments and diagnostics become more real-time and individualized. The innovators such as researchers and pharmaceutical companies will be able to be much more productive in their research since much more data can be gathered efficiently and in real-time. And, public health policy will benefit as real-time information is available for analysis as policy changes occur. All of these changes are based on one technology challenge – how do you get real-time information about the most critical parameters to an individual in a broadly accessible way? We believe our technology is the answer.
Can you give us a little sneak peek about what you’re going to talk about at the Pioneers Festival next month?
Hwang: Sure – I’ll be sharing our technology, our excitement and vision of how our technology can change the world, and give a live demonstration on stage of our sensor. Should be fun!