Like many chronic diseases, doctors and researchers have been studying asthma for decades trying to understand how it works on both a micro/physiological scale, but also on a macro/public health scale. Despite advances in our understanding of this disease along with new treatments and technologies being developed over the years, asthma continues to be a growing problem across all demographics, with about 1 million new asthma patients diagnosed every year in the U.S. alone. Today there are about 30 million U.S. asthma patients, and 300 million worldwide. Across the globe, asthma prevalence is predicted to increase by 50% over the next decade, signaling a serious problem with how we are dealing with this chronic disease.
Two years ago, my co-founder Abby Cohen and I were just starting our junior year at Washington University in St. Louis. We were both part of an extracurricular group called Engineers Without Borders – Engineering World Health, which had an yearly goal of finding a healthcare-related problem and developing a low-cost solution using our engineering skills. We were intrigued by the pressing burden of asthma and wanted to know why this problem was somehow getting worse over time, even as technology and treatments had been improving.
We found that the major roadblock was in the management of the disease, as many effective treatments have already been developed. Patients have historically been largely unable to effectively control their asthma, leading to enormous burdens on both the individual and healthcare systems. We learned that “spirometers” are the gold standard medical device used to diagnose and monitor lung function for patients with asthma and other respiratory diseases like cystic fibrosis and COPD. To use a spirometer, a patient inhales fully then exhales through the device as hard and fast as they are able. This provides a detailed snapshot of how the patient’s lungs are doing at that time by measuring the speed of the air as the patient exhales. However, due to three issues—high cost ($1000+), cumbersome user-experience, and tedious daily maintenance—these powerful devices have been relegated to being used only by hospitals and pulmonologists.
At Sparo Labs, we’ve spent the past two years developing an award-winning, pocket-sized spirometer that solves these historical issues through an innovative and elegant solution. The Sparo Labs system empowers patients to quantitatively track and proactively manage their asthma through seamless integration with smartphones and other mobile devices. Our system can be produced for a mere fraction of the cost of traditional spirometers today and allows patients to track and evaluate medication efficacy and dosage, identify and avoid environmental triggers, and actually prevent asthma attacks hours or days in advance by detecting a decline in lung function even before symptoms are present. Putting this powerful tool in the hands of patients will allow for a disruptive shift in respiratory disease management and will equip doctors and healthcare providers with objective and real-time data to deliver care that both improves patient outcomes and reduces costs.
Having graduated from Washington University in St. Louis this past May, Abby and I are excited to be working full-time on Sparo Labs and trying to make a real impact on asthma and other respiratory diseases. Please reach out to us if you’d like to learn more!
- Andrew Brimer, Co-Founder
(Also pictured: Abby Cohen, Co-Founder)
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