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Report from Maker Faire: Wrist Band Takes Blood Pressure

Slapband device inventors

Nicole Mendoza, left, and Kimberly Veliz with their Slapband devices at Maker Faire (A. Kotok)

20 June 2016. Editor’s note: Science & Enterprise visited the National Maker Faire, a celebration of inventors and tinkerers that took place this past weekend (18-19 June) in Washington, D.C. While some corporate giants were there — e.g., GE, Microsoft, Intel — and most exhibits were aimed at hobbyists and school kids, we found a few science-based small businesses with good stories to tell. Here’s the second of two reports.

Taking blood pressure, a routine task in clinics, gives a one-time snapshot of an individual’s condition, but people who need frequent monitoring of blood pressure must return continuously to the clinic or take their blood pressure at home. In addition, devices that measure blood pressure, known as blood pressure cuffs, can be uncomfortable for some individuals. Two engineering students invented a device that makes possible continuous blood pressure monitoring.

Kimberly Veliz and Nicole Mendoza are two recent University of California – Irvine biomedical engineering graduates who designed Slapband, a wristband that measures blood pressure. The device is still in prototype, which they say is being prepared for clinical trials needed to get FDA approval, expected in about a year.

Veliz and Mendoza, now a graduate researcher at UC-Irvine, got the idea for Slapband from working with polymer sensors in their research lab. They found the flexible polymer sensors could fit over arteries in the wrist and measure physiological functions like blood pressure at least as well as conventional blood pressure cuffs. Unlike the conventional cuff, the Slapband — so named because it’s literally slapped on the wrist for wearing — is worn continuously, so it also captures blood-pressure continuously.

Slapband’s sensor circuits are embedded into flexible plastic. Veliz and Mendoza designed the sensors with Arduino, an open-source electronic prototyping platform, then ported the circuits to the wearable device. Algorithms in the device convert the sensor readings to electronic signals sent to a smartphone, for review by the wearer, or uploaded to the cloud for clinicians.

The inventors anticipate adding other monitoring functions to their device, including other vital signs, electrocardiograms, and tracking baby kicks in pregnant women. They are seeking financing for further development, scaling up, and clinical trials. The decision of starting their own company to commercialize Slapband or licensing their technology to another enterprise is still up the air.

Veliz and Mendoza recently demonstrated Slapband in the first season of the reality TV show America’s Greatest Makers on the TBS network. On the show, the inventors told how they’re first-generation university students, the first in their families to go to college, where they took part in UC-Irvine’s program encouraging minority student interest in biomedical science.

Also from Maker Faire: Plastic Recycling Made in Space

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