Q&A: The inventor of an asthma monitoring device that plugs into a smartphone

Ian Bolland caught up with Dr Thomas Antalffy, the inventor of Smart Peak Flow – a medically certified asthma monitoring device that plugs into a smartphone.

An asthma monitoring device that plugs into a smartphone has been launched which can predict potential asthma attacks up to seven days in advance.

Smart Peak Flow allows asthmatics to monitor their condition and share their records with medical professionals.

The device plugs into the headphone jack of any smartphone. Users blow into the mouthpiece three times so the accompanying app can record variable lung function over time. The app then provides a chart of results that reveal whether a patient is in a green (safe), yellow or red (at risk) zone, allowing accurate results to be shared instantly with a doctor or caregiver.

Ian Bolland caught with the inventor of the device, Dr Thomas Antalffy, to find out more:

IB: How did the idea for Smart Peak Flow come about?

TA: I was working with GSK, looking for ways to deliver value to asthma patients beyond inhalers. Asthma is a variable disease with ups and downs and patients can only feel their condition getting worse when it is too late. My idea was to design a cheap and simple lung function testing device that works with smartphones.

IB: Give us an idea as to the technology that has gone into creating the device?

TA: The goal was to make the device low cost and simple to use with no battery and no syncing.

The Smart Peak Flow device houses a small propeller. As you blow, the rotating propeller chops up the ambient light entering through a small window on the top of the device. A photodiode picks up the flashing light and transmits it to the phone as sound.

Everything else is done by the app running on the phone.

IB: How does the metre successfully measure lung function?

TA: Asthma is a hyperreaction of airways to inhaled foreign bodies from the environment. One defence mechanism is the narrowing of airways, which is what causes shortness of breath.

The same narrowing means that air passes slower though the airways. Smart Peak Flow measures the fastest rate at which you can expel air from your lungs, which is called peak expiratory flow rate.

The Peak Flow rate drops when the airways start narrowing, and Smart Peak Flow can detect the drop long before patients can feel the shortness of breath.

IB: Could this be used in different ways by healthcare professionals and patients? E.g. Could a doctor diagnose someone with asthma with this meter, while a patient may use it monitor their health?

TA: The diagnosis of asthma hinges on multiple factors, so Smart Peak Flow cannot diagnose asthma in itself. However, once the diagnosis has been established, Smart Peak Flow can be used for home monitoring of its ups and downs.

IB: Given recent publications of the Long Term Plan and Topol Review, among others, do you think devices like yours will become more like the norm?

TA: Connected devices measuring physiological parameters are set to spread faster than the medical profession can adapt to interpreting and using all the data. So short term these devices are going to be primarily for self-monitoring.

In an ideal world there should be no antagonism here: people nowadays take a greater interest in their own health, and doctors are happy for patients to be more engaged in their health and wellbeing.

IB: Do you have any future plans for Smart Peak Flow?

TA: Oh, yes! Smart Peak Flow is essentially a sensor detecting your asthma status, and we are planning further sensors to report on other aspects of asthma. Sitting on top of the sensors will be an AI driven prediction system giving forecasts of your asthma risk for the day.

IB: Anything else to add?

TA: Just a bit of background on Asthma, because asthma is a huge burden both on individuals affected and on healthcare. One in 10 people in the UK have asthma and the disease is amongst the highest burdens on the NHS. Sadly it also causes about 1,400 people a year to die for entirely preventable reasons. More people die from asthma attacks than die in motorway accidents. And while it is normal for people to buckle up when they drive down the motorway, for some reason it is similarly normal for people with asthma not to keep track of their disease. Smart Peak Flow aims to change this by making it easier to stay in the know about your asthma.

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