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Small Biz Award to Boost Maternal Health App

Pregnant woman torso, side view

(Jeffy, Pixabay.

24 July 2023. A digital health company with an app for monitoring maternal health is receiving nearly $1 million to add an algorithm for detecting a dangerous pregnancy complication. National Science Foundation last month awarded $975,000 to Emagine Solutions Technology in Tucson, Arizona for upgrading The Journey Pregnancy App developed by the company, with a machine learning model to predict preeclampsia in pregnant or post-partum women.

Preeclampsia is a form of high blood pressure during pregnancy, accompanied by high levels of proteins in urine indicating kidney damage. The disorder usually appears after 20 weeks of pregnancy or after birth, many times in women without a previous history of high blood pressure. In pregnant women, diagnosis of preeclampsia may require early delivery of the baby, depending on severity of the disease and stage of pregnancy. If left untreated, preeclampsia can result in life-threatening complications for mother and baby.

Preeclampsia occurs in two to eight percent of pregnancy-related complications, leading to as many as a 26 percent of maternal deaths in low-income countries and 16 percent in higher-income counties. Emagine Solutions cites data showing preeclampsia affects one in 20 births, or 150,000 women each year in the U.S. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation show maternal mortality rates in the U.S. far exceed other advanced countries, particularly among people of color who often face unequal treatment from health care providers.

The Journey Pregnancy App is free to download and available for both iPhone and Android devices. The app tracks vital signs and other indicators such as blood pressure, glucose level, mood, and weight throughout pregnancy, alerts mothers if readings are out of range or reaching dangerous levels, and enables sharing of data with health care providers. Premium versions of the app provide for wellness coaching, health monitoring devices, and monthly reports.

The NSF award supports development of a machine learning model for pregnancy health that interacts with electronic health records systems. The proposed work calls for implementing the A.I. model to predict preeclampsia, integrate the system with other wellness devices and provide reminder notifications for users. The company is also expected to develop strategies for regulatory clearance and commercialization of the technology.

“I don’t want other people to go through what I went through.”

Emagine Solutions Technology is a six year-old company co-founded by Courtney Williams, now the company’s CEO. Williams revealed her own encounter with preeclampsia in an interview earlier this month with Authority Magazine, published on Medium.

I had a high risk pregnancy during the height of the Covid pandemic and I got preeclampsia in the postpartum period. I was frustrated by the lack of technology available to communicate my condition with my provider. Furthermore, if I had had this technology I would have known when my blood pressure was too high and when to seek help from my provider. … I was frustrated that I had to keep going into the office multiple times per week just to get my blood pressure read. I developed this technology because I don’t want other people to go through what I went through.

Also in the interview, Williams says her team interviewed more than 100 women during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic about their prenatal experiences showing extra burdens faced by Black, indigenous, and rural women. Respondents told about women lacking access to adequate insurance, being out-of-range from high-speed Internet or cellular networks supporting telemedicine, located in counties without an OB-GYN specialist, or feeling their needs were not being addressed by health care providers.

“The U.S. maternal health crisis is felt by every community in our country,” says Williams in a company statement released through BusinessWire. “The National Science Foundation provides vital funding, policy, and support that allows us to develop much-needed solutions, capture the attention of the nation, and drive real change.”

The NSF award is made through the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research or SBIR program. NSF says its program awards more than $200 million a year to some 400 start-ups in the U.S.

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