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Innovation: ToucHb – a non-invasive blood level monitor

Hi guys, sorry for not posting very much the last week, but there have been some busy days. I am back with a brief presentation of a relatively new haemoglobin monitoring device, developed by an Indian team at Biosense Technology led by the engineer Myshkin Ingawale, which is no larger than a paperback and is driven by regular AA batteries. You can read about ToucHb for yourselves here and here, but the latter consists of a dozen pages… Now, ToucHb looks like this:

A quick little something about anaemia. It is a blood disease, in which the person has a low ‘blood count’ meaning that there is a low concentration of haemoglobin in the blood. The protein haemoglobin’s primary task is to transport oxygen (believe me, I had this question at my Oxford interview – I know…) throughout the body. One usually also says a person is anaemic when a person looses a lot of blood which decreases the total amount of haemoglobin in the body, thus inducing the anaemic symptom. In the poor areas of the world, the problem of anaemia is worse than in the richer, because of malaria and perinatal (childbirth) bleeding, where the latter is more easily caused because anaemic blood coagulates less easily than normal blood; add to that a 20-kilometre distance to the nearest healthcare centre (not even a hospital). This distance is usually covered by foot, meaning a day’s wage and energy is lost, together with a risk of robbery and a risk to worsen the symptoms of the disease. The blood is then taken via a needle and requires an analytic machine costing tens of thousands of pounds to acquire, hence enabling only very few, large healthcare centres to perform these tests.

There are three Hb levels, note that 97% is the regular Hb level (here presented in % although often it is established to measure in grams per decilitre):

Mild anaemia: 56%

Moderate anaemia: 16%

Severe anaemia: 2%

Now, back to ToucHb.

There are simply treatments to issue when/if anaemia is diagnosed. Iron pills, injections, etc. can all help to bring the blood levels up. However, it is the testing, screening, and diagnosis of the disease that is complicated – hence, Biosense Technologies have developed the ToucHb. This device uses electromagnetic radiation (lightwaves) to analyse the constituents of the finger in the grey pinch in the picture below.

It uses three different wavelengths to analyse the blood constituents and in some way which I do not understand the meter shows the Hb level in the blood, together with blood pressure and heart rate. One can also attach this device to a cell phone and project the data further, to family or the healthcare centre (hence, instead of walking 20 kilometres, a health official can screen whole villages in a matter of hours and then send the data via the telephone network…).

This could truly be a revolutionising device for an under-treated disease that often falls under the shadow of AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis. I want to draw a parallel to the GeneXpert MTB/RIF test (picture below) which also has brought some mobility and great efficacy to the diagnosis of Tuberculosis. The anaemia apparatus is driven like a radio, with AA batteries, and takes only about 20 seconds to analyse a person’s blood level. I am not a 100% sure of the precision of this device, so I have to research this further perhaps, but just giving it legs is a great achievement! Well done, Biosense Technology!

And finally, the TED presentation where Ingawale presents the device:

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