'Smart Band-Aid' Could Prevent Heart Failure Deaths

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | October 19, 2009
One day a device
the size of an adhesive
bandage may warn of SCA
A Massachusetts start-up hopes its "smart band-aid" could help save people from a deadly heart condition that kills almost without warning.

Based in Melrose, Mass., OmniMedics, a two-year-old company founded by Cornell engineers, hopes their tiny alert system, called the HeartStrip, could help save some of the approximately 1,000 Americans who die each day from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

"SCA is the biggest killer that most people have never heard about and is the single, most common cause of death in the U.S. and other industrialized nations," Ron Greene, CEO of OmniMedics tells DOTmed News.

"Most people don't understand SCA," he continues. "A massive heart attack is different. A massive heart attack is basically a clotting of the valve of the heart. But an SCA is an electrical malfunction of the heart."

This malfunction puts at risk the almost 5 million Americans afflicted with congestive heart failure.

Tragically, SCA is nearly always fatal. According to Greene, only about five percent of people who experience an SCA are revived. But OmniMedics thinks, with its device, the number could reach more than 70 percent.

Minutes matter

The one thing victims of SCA need is time. "Survival decreases by 10 percent per minute in cardiac arrest," Douglas Zipes, M.D., a cardiologist and spokesman for the American College of Cardiology, tells DOTmed News.

Thus, people laid low by an SCA are generally thought to have a five to 10 minute survival window in which to be revived by receiving an electric jolt from an external defibrillator.

But the catch is that the first really noticeable symptom of SCA, loss of consciousness, can be ambiguous, even for people who know the victim is at risk for the attack. And this, Greene thinks, is where HeartStrip comes in.

How HeartStrip works

HeartStrip is, in essence, a warning system. About the size of a band-aid, it adheres to the skin on the chest, and listens for the heart rhythm irregularities that signal SCA.

Once it detects arrhythmia, HeartStrip wirelessly triggers an audible alarm in the home that would alert anyone nearby that the patient is having an SCA. Meanwhile, it would call chosen neighbors, paramedics and the police by phone.

The hope is that with this instant, clear response, neighbors, spouses or first responders would be able to reach the patient in time to save them with the use of an external defibrillator.

"We're not competing with [external] defibrillators. We're working in conjunction with them, and complementing defibrillators," Greene says. "If we were to place or sell our HeartStrip system, we would also see that an external defibrillator was placed as part of the system."