Venk Varadan, Co-founder & CEO at Nanowear, joined us for an in-depth exploration into the use of cloth-based nanosensor technology, AI, and deep-learning-enabled diagnostics for remote monitoring of congestive heart failure, chronic diseases, and COVID-19. We also dived into digital transformation in healthcare, the future of nanotechnology, and much more!
Here is a sneak peek of our conversation:
Q: As an average person, who basically puts clothes on, what is different and interesting about Nanowear? What is it that you’re selling?
A: Sure. If we were in person or if the audience was in person, I could pass around a sample of the cloth that is basically our core sensor technology that captures and transmits biomarkers often with basic skin contact. If you were to touch the active sensor area, it would feel felt-like or suede-like. The “feltiness” that you’re feeling is actually billions of vertically standing nanosensors per centimeter of surface area.
Not to get too deep into the physics, but if you think of each of those nanosensors or nanopillars as an individual sensor or electrode, the difference of what we have versus every other sensor that’s out there, from smartwatches to gel electrode patches to adhesives, is that we’ve got exponentially higher surface area. We’re getting billions of skin contact touchpoints in a limited amount of space. Because we have billions of them, we can functionalize the tips to capture different things.
Most wearables are looking at maybe one, two, or maybe three different biomarkers. We’re looking at 10 plus, just from the raw data standpoint. Because we can get so clean and so narrow on the types of frequencies we’re looking for, we can actually extrapolate and derive even more biomarkers from the composite data that we’re capturing. I’ll get to the clothing aspect and the actual application in a second, but because of that sort of uniqueness of the advanced materials, we can actually capture electrical signals, hemodynamic signals–flow characteristics and volume-based characteristics in your heart and lungs, and your vascular system. We can capture acoustics–sounds of your heart. We can capture activity, movement, posture, and even, in some cases, metabolic information.
The breadth of it is sort of clear: we’re multi-parameter and multivariant. What’s super important, is that it’s all-time synchronous. If COVID taught us anything, it’s that you can’t just look at the heart in a vacuum or the lungs in a vacuum or the vascular system in a vacuum, they all work together. If you’re not assessing all of them at the same time with one product, you’re probably missing out on the insight of how each individual patient’s unique digital signature is progressing through disease or in recovery. I really feel like that’s what the frontier of the next 10 years of digital health is: can we really produce a unique digital signature of each human and not just bucket us as a 35-year-old male of South Asian descend or something like that. That’s the premise of Nanowear.
Regarding the product itself, we were actually really romantic with the idea of clothing when we first got started. Our first prototype was a tank top for men and a bra for women. The minute we started getting our MVPs, we were showing great clinical fidelity, benchmarking against gold-standard devices, but then we went to hospital systems, we went to OEMs that would be our potential customers. It’s probably a year or two of our six-year journey so far. The hospital admins, procurement, and vendors would say “I love this tank top, I love this bra, but I have no idea how many 6-ft, 300-lbs men are coming in this week. I have no idea how many 34B cup sizes are coming in this week and I’m not going to store seven different sizes for men and for women.”
One of their shovels hit you over the head as a first-time founder realizing “Hey, inventory management is going to be a big problem here.” It kind of forced us to create something that’s gender-neutral and size adjustable but still maintains the vectors of measurement across the largest slice of the heart, the largest slice of the lungs, and the upper vascular system. The product itself, we call it sort of like a vest or a sash. It goes over your right shoulder and across your thoracic cavity. It’s got an adjustable strap here, an adjustable strap over the shoulder, and an adjustable strap on the side. It’s super easy for a patient to put on by themselves, which is part of the draw here. It doesn’t require a medical professional to fit them; because of the nanotechnology, we don’t need to nail location, we can be a little bit off based on different sizes of torso length and BMIs, and we’re still good.
The product itself actually transmits to a patient mobile app where a patient starts the test, stops the tests, and can log symptoms with the touch of a button on the app screen and those symptoms timestamp to the waveforms that we send to our server. That’s where AI and our analytics engine run and score the data, push that down to the physician portal, where they can look at the raw data if they want to but then also look at the trends in the scoring. Again, the value there is sort of all of the metrics time synchronously. You’re kind of replacing a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff, a Holter monitor, and a respiration machine, all-in-one with this sort of vest.
I know in your intro you mentioned that the first product was for congestive heart failure. That was actually pre-COVID. Heart failure is still on the roadmap for sure. As you can imagine, once COVID hit, there were use cases that we never even thought of that came out of the woodwork. Primary care wasn’t really a market for us. People were happy to go into the doctor’s office and get their regular physical.
When that changed, people were looking for solutions like us. “Can we replace those standard diagnostic tools in a 30-minute visit and maybe do it in 15 minutes now?” Post-surgical recovery, elective surgery were never really a market for us until COVID. You can’t come in for day one, day four, day seven visits anymore post-surgery, unless you have to. I think we went from transformational and cool before COVID to “Damn, we needed this yesterday!” when COVID kind of accelerated and gave the shock to the much-needed digital adoption that I think healthcare has been long starving for…
For more of our discussion, you can watch the whole Fireside Chat with Venk Varadan, or listen to the podcast version, below.
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