A research team of students at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) in Israel developed an innovative technology that than helps prevent the development of foot ulcers associated with diabetic neuropathy — a type of nerve damage caused by the disease. These ulcers result from anatomical deformation, poor blood supply in the lower extremities and excessive pressure, affecting more than 130 million individuals worldwide, and being the leading cause of amputation, costing the United States economy more than $10 billion every year, according to HUJI.
A 2002 study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, published in the journal Diabetes Care, reported that 15 percent of persons with diabetes will develop a foot ulcer at some point in their lives, and diabetic patients admitted to the hospital with lower-extremity ulcers have longer stays on average than those hospitalized who did not have ulcers.
The Canadian Diabetes Association notes that people with diabetes who have diabetic peripheral neuropathy often fail to notice minor cuts, sores, or blisters on their lower extremities, and these small wounds, if left untreated, can easily become infected, lead to gangrene, and may eventually require amputation of the affected area.
The 2002 study also reported that only about 4 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes, that 46 percent of persons admitted to the hospital with a foot ulcer are diabetics, and that half of all lower-extremity amputations in hospitalized patients occurred in diabetic patients, with amputees experiencing diminished quality of life and incurring increased health costs. These patients were also found to be more likely to die within the next five years than those without amputations.
Diabetic patients are urged to have regular checkups to monitor for increased pressure and ulceration that can eventually require amputation; however, ulcers can only be diagnosed after they happen, requiring healing time and dramatically increasing associated healthcare costs.
The BioDesign: Medical Innovation program is a multi-disciplinary, team-based approach to medical innovation created by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and its affiliated Hadassah Medical Center in partnership with Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Also sponsored by Boston Scientific and the Terumo Medical Corporation, the program selects outstanding medical fellows and bioengineering and business graduate students, and tutors them in the science and practice of bringing medical innovations to market.
“[Diabetic neuropathy] is a significant medical problem that affects the lives of millions. We thought there must be a way to avoid these wounds altogether,” commented Danny Bavli, the research project’s lead engineer, in a Hebrew University of Jerusalem release.
To address this challenge, Bavli formed a team with Sagi Frishman and Dr. David Morgenstern, a leading orthopedic surgeon at Hadassah Medical Center, and together with other members of the Hebrew University BioDesign group created SenseGO, a machine-washable sock with dozens of micro-fabricated pressure sensors.
SenseGO can detect changes in pressure as the result of incorrect posture, anatomical deformation or ill-fitting shoes,which are then recorded as electrical signals and relayed to a smartphone app, which in turn warns the patient of ulcer risk development.
“This is a classic mobile health approach. By giving patients and their families the tools they need to prevent the development of ulcers, we can dramatically reduce health care costs related to diabetes,” BioDesign program director Prof. Yaakov Nahmias observed in the release.
Other members of the BioDesign SenseGO team included Hebrew University of Jerusalem MBA students Inbal Boxerman and Yael Hadar.
A video about SenseGO can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/drc7NpiiB74
Innovations produced by the Biodesign program participants are commercialized by Yissum, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s technology transfer company and Hadasit, the technology transfer company of the Hadassah Medical Center.