Jon Bloom, co-founder of startup company Podimetrics, developed a mat that can detect foot ulcers before they happen and reduce the number of amputations occurring. Bloom completed his residency in anesthesiology at Massachusetts General Hospital in the mid-2000s and saw a lot of diabetic patients go through foot amputations because of infected foot ulcers.
“Some day, I would spend the entire day doing nothing by amputations,” Bloom said in a press release. “It’s a major problem we haven’t really moved forward on.”
The smart mat has sensors that detect minute spikes in temperatures around the foot which can be an indicator of an ulcer forming. A user has to stand on the mat for approximately 20 seconds a day and the measurements get sent to the cloud. If the mat detects the formations of an ulcer, Podimetrics can alert the user’s physician who can start a treatment plan.
“[Physicians and patients] don’t find [ulcers] until after the fact, and then they’re going down the wound-care path,” Bloom said. “We’re saying let’s identify them before they’re open so we can do simple, brief preventative interventions.”
Currently in more than 500 homes, the mat was able to detect 97% of incipient ulcers five weeks before diagnosis at a doctor’s office in a study.
“That’s an enormous jump in time, where patients and physicians can put a plan in place with the goal of preventing the foot ulcer from occurring,” Bloom said.
The study also showed that 86% of the test subjects used the mat for at least three days a week during a nine-month period.
“That was the most exciting statistic because we know it’s a challenge [for patients] to incorporate these technologies into daily workflow,” said Bloom.
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, a diabetic foot ulcer is an open sore or wound that happens in 15% of people with diabetes. About 6& of those patients will be hospitalized for an infection or other ulcer-related complication. Anyone with diabetes is likely to develop a foot ulcer at any time and people who use insulin are at a higher risk.
Podimetrics uses an old discovery that suggests wounds heat up before they begin to break down. Because a foot ulcer takes weeks to develop, there are minute spikes in temperature as the tissues begin to break down and cause inflammation.
The startup also used a 2007 National Institutes of Health study that suggested if diabetic patients stayed off their feet when there were temperature spikes of 2.2 ºC, the occurrence of foot ulcers reduced 70%. With that knowledge, Podimetrics programmed the mat to monitor the whole foot and tracked areas that were 2.2ºC hotter than other areas. Once that information was sent to the cloud and the physician was notified, the physician could call the patient to tell them to stay off of their feet until the temperature in their foot goes down.
Each mat is customizable for higher or lower temperature thresholds as needed. A lower threshold indicates greater sensitivity but could create false positives.
“Not surprisingly, every clinician has it on the most sensitive setting, so they don’t miss anything,” Bloom said.
The idea to create the mat started at a 2011 MIT hackathon event.
“The idea was to get 100 people in a room to hack any medical idea, winner take all. It sounded like an interesting event. I had no idea it was going to change my life,” Bloom said.
Bloom and the co-founders Brian Petersen, David Linders and Jeff Engler, decided they wanted to tackle the costliness and persistence of foot ulcers and prevent them from occurring in the first place. The team created a variety of concepts like an insole system that could monitor foot pressures and send data to a smartphone, which eventually led the team to be named one of the hackathon’s two winners.
After the win, the team was able to pitch their idea to the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition where they received second place and the audience choice award. In 2012, they won the life science track at the $100K Launch finale.
Various MIT events and a trip to Silicon Valley where an angel investor took notice helped the startup receive funding.
“I can’t imagine Podimetrics without the MIT environment. It was such an unbelievable place to be,” Bloom said.
In the startup process, Podimetrics made a prototype of the mat that had large sensors and a circuit board sticking out and was held together using electrical tape. The mat went through clinical trials and the startup eventually relocated to Somerville, Mass. where it was able to refine the prototype to its commercial process. As a result, the company has raised more than $8 million in funding.
Podimetrics hopes to scale up production and that the mat will be in more homes in the next year. It also plans to start a new study to measure the cost and health outcomes from the mat.
“Now we’re focused on gathering more data, continuing to build on data we have and learning the best environment where we can help,” Bloom said.