Dynocardia: A New Way to Measure Blood Pressure
“Everyone is used to hearing less than 120/80 as ‘normal’ blood pressure. But if you understood where your BP was throughout the day and night, it would be a much better predictor of your risks than this one number.”
Occlusive arm-cuff devices have been the standard of care for measuring blood pressure (BP) for more than a century, despite well-known critical issues. Cuffs provide inaccurate BP readings up to 50% of the time, and they can only offer a single measurement, a snapshot of a number that ranges widely over the course of the day.
Dr. Mohan Thanikachalam, Founder and CEO of Dynocardia, shares how his team came up with a fundamentally new way to measure BP, working to address the need for more actionable data that can drive predictive monitoring and preventative care.
What sparked your interest in finding a different approach to BP monitoring?
[MT] I’m a cardiac surgeon. Close to 50% of patients in the ICU get invasive arterial lines so we can monitor their blood pressure continuously. I also have a long-standing interest in public health. If you look at the national data, we’re wrongly diagnosing 30% of people with hypertension. I’ve run programs where I’ve tried to manage people’s blood pressure at home, and it is extremely challenging. All of this was the impetus for me to work on the problem, jointly with Tufts University School of Medicine and MIT.
Around 2014, the National Institute of Health called for physician-led proposals from across the country to come up with a different way of measuring blood pressure. We were selected — a joint team of Tufts and MIT. We went back to the basics of physiology because ultimately, it’s not a technology issue but a methodology issue.
How does your solution work?
[MT] When you feel your pulse, you’re feeling the force transmitted from the pressure wave inside your blood vessels. We wanted to see if we could use spatiotemporal-force information to measure BP. Dr. Adelson at MIT was already working in this area, building sensors for robots to have touch and feel. The question was, could we make this robot more sensitive than human touch?
That’s how our optomechanical tactile sensor came about. In between our sensor’s camera and a membrane that sits against the skin, we’ve put an actuator that provides counter pressure on the skin. Our sensor captures the spatiotemporal-force distribution on the skin in micron scale, and then converts this information into streaming 3D images, essentially reconstructing the blood pressure wave inside the vessel. Then, based on our proprietary methodology, we measure systolic and diastolic blood pressure continuously from the image.
What led your team to the Luminate accelerator?
[MT] We’re using an off-the-shelf camera, and we have a proof-of-concept device. What we need to do now is customize the optics for our application. That was the incentive to join Luminate. Since we’ve been in the program, we’ve already spoken with three different groups in the Rochester area, and a couple others across the country. Now we’re identifying who will be best suited for us.
Who is the target audience for Dynocardia’s technology?
[MT] We’re initially focusing on in-hospital care. We want to be able to capture continuous BP measurement without needing to place an arterial line, and to give doctors and nurses more information about what’s happening with their patients. Future applications include serving people at home who are managing chronic diseases like high blood pressure or diabetes, and then everyday consumers.
The largest value we can add is being able to provide new fundamental, actionable data that is not readily available. Everyone is used to hearing less than 120/80 as “normal” blood pressure, but if you understood where your BP was throughout the day and night, it would be a much better predictor of your risks than this one number.
Ideally what we want to do is connect data to the cloud so we can integrate care and improve patient outcomes. Imagine being able to monitor a patient through their ambulance ride and during their time in the hospital, and then be able to send the device home with them.
Any advice for startups or entrepreneurs?
[MT] I’m plugged into the MIT ecosystem where there’s a new startup coming out every day. Many build their technology and then try to find a problem to fix. My advice is to first understand the problem and make sure it really needs to be solved. I could come up with multiple surgical technologies, but it must be addressing a real-life situation.