Illinois startup hopes to alert people of pending heart attacks

4/13/2015

Mike Koon, Engineering Communications Office

Editor's Note: This is one in a series of features on competitors in the 2015 Cozad New Venture competition, a program sponsored by the University of Illinois' Technology Entrepreneur Center that is designed to encourage students to create new businesses. The competition process offers teams assistance in the form of: mentors to help guide them through the phases of venture creation, workshops to help with idea validation, pitching skills, customer development, and more as well as and courses to enhance their skills and knowledge. Teams who make it to the final round of competition will have the opportunity to meet with venture capitalists, early stage investors and successful entrepreneurs who will serve as judges. The judges will determine up to eight finalist teams that will present their ventures at the finals event. Last year, these teams competed for nearly $200,000 in funding and in-kind prizes.

Are you on the verge of having a heart attack? That’s what a University of Illinois student startup is trying to help potential victims answer.

The startup, Resdin Technologies, is developing a quick at-home diagnostic test that provides one of the key warning signs of impending myocardial infarction, better known as a heart attack.

“We’re looking to tell people that they are in trouble and they need to get help now instead waiting to the end of the day, which is the situation that causes fatal problems,” noted the developer Aaron Mann.

Resdin is developing a device similar to a glucose monitor. A person uses a finger prick to draw blood, puts it on a slide and the device will be able detect high levels (likely 5 parts per million) of troponin protein in the blood. If the test is positive, a Bluetooth on the tape can be programmed to dial 9-1-1 automatically.

“If you have high troponin levels, you’re having a heart attack,” said Mann “That’s the compound that is released when the heart begins to die.  If that’s there, you’re in trouble.”

While Resdin is targeting people with at-risk factors, the company is also hoping to attract emergency room nurses and EMTs. Mann notes that a high number of patients in the ER are worried they have had or are having a heart attack.

“Diagnostics are really difficult for people already in the hospital setting,” Mann said. “ER nurses have the challenge of fleshing out people who need to be seen first just by looking at them. This is a quick test they can use to help make that assessment.”

Mann says that the troponin assay test is the most common way for nurses and physicians to tell if a patient has had a heart attack or has an angina (caused by not enough blood flow in the heart) that is getting worse. In the hospital, patients have blood drawn. That blood is then sent to a lab for assessment, the results of which often take hours.

Mann’s interest in medicine came after an internship with Johnson & Johnson in which he helped redesign a surgical device the company chose to manufacture. The electrical engineering student has been in constant consultation with physicians, who support the potential of his technology.  

Though the technology development is far enough down the road, Mann is using ECE 445 (senior design) to produce the actual product. He has been meeting with hospitals to request access to clinical pools for testing once the he completes a prototype.

“Every physician has their own opinion about how these things can work,” Mann noted. “I have used several physicians as consultants and advisors along the way because I need to get their endorsement to convince hospitals to purchase them.”

In the interim, Mann, at the advice of those physicians, is working with doctors to develop a web site that will help people determine if they have factors or symptoms (like age, weight, slight fever, nausea, off-balance) that are at-risk for a heart attack. He will then use that site to help market the product to consumers. He is also working with insurance companies to help distribute the products to at-risk patients, noting that the price of the monitor will cost about one percent of the price of a typical diagnostic test hospitals use. That represents a long-term savings for the insurance companies.

“It is very common for patients to put off important tests because of how unbelievable expensive and time consuming it is to perform diagnostics,” Mann said. “You also have peripheral cases that even robust diagnostics do not catch. A slightly less savvy diagnostic tool in the hands of the potential victims is going to save lives and money compared to those more expensive tests, no matter who is paying for it.”

Mann hopes that in mass production, the devices can be sold for around $25 with strips replaced at about $1 apiece. He believes this technology can be applied to other diseases. For instance, he has heard from a doctor in Massachusetts who is interested in exploring the possibility of malaria detection.

“There are a lot interesting and intriguing ways to apply medicine that people aren’t exploring because there is a lot more money to be made in medical devices,” Mann said. “We believe that what we are developing will ultimately save lives. That is our motivation.”