Feb 17 2014, 11:41am CST | by Forbes
No one knows for sure but Apple appears to be strongly interested in adding medical applications and technologies to its current and future products. We know that Apple has patented a heart sensor that could be incorporated in a future iPhone or iWatch, though it seems more likely that it would be used for security rather than health purposes. We also know that top Apple executives have met with FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg and top FDA device regulators , though the details of their discussion have not been disclosed.
Apple is exploring ways to measure noise “turbulence” as it applies to blood flow. The company wants to develop software and sensors that can predict heart attacks by identifying the sound blood makes as it tries to move through an artery clogged with plaque, the source said.
Even with Apple’s astonishing $150 billion cash reservoir, this type of advance seems unlikely any time soon. Cardiovascular researchers have been working for decades trying to find better ways to accurately predict heart attacks. They’ve learned a lot over the years but there’s nothing that’s even close to clinical reality.
I asked a bunch of cardiologists for their thoughts. None thought very highly of the prospect.
Sameer Bansilal, a cardiologist at Mt. Sinai in New York, said:
While its enticing to imagine that the watch will magically predict heart attacks, the reality is that such sensors rely on surrogates such as heart rate, sympathetic tone and peripheral vascular resistance which can only provide part of the story, let alone predict a specific artery being clogged.
Dave Albert, the inventor of the AliveCor mobile ECG ,
Heart Attacks occur most often when a coronary plaque ruptures, creating a clot and obstructing blood flow to the heart. This obstruction in the coronary arteries has NOTHING to do with turbulent blood flow in the radial or ulnar arteries in the wrist.
(The AliveCor is a great example of mobile health technology now available in the real world. Just last week the company announced that it had gained FDA clearance to market the device over-the-counter. Previously, purchase of the device had required a physician’s prescription.)
Even Eric Topol, a well-known cardiologist and technology evangelist who is often enthusiastic about new technology, thinks this method is unlikely to fulfill the hype. In a tweet he said, “We’d all like to get this done, but this method unlikely.”
But these negative remarks shouldn’t suggest that the converging trends of wearable computers and improved biosensors won’t be important. I suspect that new devices– in your pocket, on your wrist, in your eyeglasses– will eventually bring a new computing revolution, and there can be little question that health care will be transformed along with everything else. But for now I wouldn’t count on new technology to tell you when and if you are having a heart attack.
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