SmartDerm Wants to Stop Bedsores Before They Start

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Michael Hemati and Sachin Rangarajan, cofounders of SmartDerm, operate their medical device startup company from the Mission Bay QB3 garage. There, they are developing technology to predict and prevent pressure ulcers—commonly called bedsores—in hospital patients.

They are developing thin sensors that measure a patient’s pressure profile and position while bedbound. The data is sent to risk assessment software installed on a mobile device, where algorithms calculate when and how these patients should be moved in order to reduce the risk of developing pressure ulcers. Eventually, they aim to develop a hardware interface with automated patient repositioning.

Their work was inspired by the frequent occurrence of bedsores in immobile patients and incentivized by a recent Medicare and Medicaid policy that denied reimbursment for preventable injuries termed “never events.”

In 2013, Hemati and Rangarajan joined the joint UC Berkeley–UCSF Masters of Translational Medicine program. They met in the first couple of weeks of the program through a project development team. They graduated last spring and have been working with UCSF since then to improve previously developed sensor prototypes.

Hemati and Rangarajan said they have been greatly assisted in their transition from academia to startup by Dr. Hanmin Lee, their mentor and SmartDerm cofounder. Lee helped develop clinical and legal connections through the Department of Surgery and the UCSF Innovation, Technology and Alliances Office. They also credit the Clinical and Translational Science Institute with giving them the direction to turn an idea into a viable company. The CTSI also granted them a Spring 2014 Catalyst Award.

Synapse sat down with Hemati and Rangarajan to talk to them about this new technology and their journey in cofounding SmartDerm Inc.

Synapse: What is the motivation for this new technology?

Hemati: There is now a higher cost associated with increased nurse labor under the current system. Nurses check and reposition patients approximately every two hours, which is an inefficient use of their time. Our system aims to automate this time-intensive process and improve patient outcomes.

How did you improve upon the existing technology when you first started?

Hemati: We came in and re-analyzed the technology for pressure sensors and risk assessment software. Our team designed sensors, wrote code and developed algorithms. We re-analyzed the materials, got clinical feedback, and created a whole new line of prototypes in the past six months.

What makes your technology unique?

Hemati: A lot of the current technologies have one aspect where they either do just pressure sensing or risk assessment. Our approach is to combine these multiple avenues to create a complete stand-alone system to prevent pressure ulcers.

Rangarajan: When it comes to solving this problem, it really requires a multidisciplinary approach. Right now there is a variety of pressure sensing mats except they use existing pressure sensor technology developed for industrial applications. They have very accurate pressure sensors but are extremely expensive. Hospitals are not adopting them.

Will you implement clinical feedback into your product design?

Hemati: Our approach is to talk with nurses to see what their user requirements are for using a device such as ours. We take these requirements and we incorporate them into our product development.

Rangarajan: [One is able to] go in directly to the hospitals, and work with surgeons, nurses and patients to get data and feedback on our device. This cycle and turnaround is something that really draws us.

You credit CTSI for giving you direction; how did they guide you?

Rangarajan: Working with CTSI really helped us revamp our idea to realize what our value proposition was and how we needed to pitch this to make it a profitable idea. [They helped us] develop into an actual business—not just a cool research project.

What do you think are some of the differences between a medical technology company and a therapeutic biotechnology company?

Rangarajan: My initial focus was to create new medical therapies. [As an undergraduate] we were working on various stem cell projects. But I realized the timeline for that was too long for me to see a direct impact. That’s why I wanted to transition into something that has a shorter timeline. We just started our work a year ago and will soon begin implementing SmartDerm into clinics. I think the time to patient impact in this field is much faster and much more exciting.

So in some respects this is similar to the technology industry timeline?

Hemati: That’s what draws me as well. You can work from an idea on paper to having a physical device you can hand off to somebody and see that it has a direct beneficial impact on people’s lives.

What is the biggest difference between academic research and research at SmartDerm?

Rangarajan: With any kind of new technology you don’t know what direction you’re going, especially when it comes to making a new medical device and trying to integrate business, clinical and research aspects. [In academia] the approach has also always been more methodical and slow. For us, our rate of rapid prototyping, testing and development is on a completely different scale. But I guess that’s what also makes it fun. It’s always a new challenge each day. Trying to get things done by a certain timeline. Bringing all the different parts together is a really rewarding experience.