HAX Accelerator’s Startups Get Healthy

The latest class of startups coming out of HAX make products to test blood, monitor the bladder, and print human tissue

3 min read
HAX Accelerator’s Startups Get Healthy
FeetMe's smart insoles detect pressure points to protect feet from damage
Photo: Tekla Perry

HAX, formerly Haxlr8r, has been incubating hardware startups since 2011, taking 65 companies to market so far. The majority of them have done something involving low-cost applications of robotics, said HAX program director Duncan Turner, speaking at the accelerator’s spring launch event in San Francisco on 11 May.

But this year, with HAX launching its 6th class of startups, there’s a new trend coming on strong, Turner said—companies aiming to lower the cost of medical technology, for either medical professionals or consumers.

This season, six of HAX’s 15 startups are aiming at that niche.

img Kokoon tracks EEG signals and uses the data to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Image: Kokoon

Kokoon, out of London, introduced soft, comfortable headphones designed to go past tracking sleep to improving sleep; the gadget includes electroencephalographic (EEG) sensors to track changes in brain waves during the sleep cycle and adjust the sounds from the headphones appropriately: It delivers a relaxation program or music to help the user fall asleep, white noise during the deepest phases of sleep to block out interruptions, and an alarm that waits for a light phase of the sleep cycle to go off. Kokoon is available for US $169 on Kickstarter and will retail for $299.

img BBB uses a smart phone accessory to read the amount of glucose in blood; cholesterol is next. Photo: Tekla Perry

BBB, based in San Francisco, China, and South Korea, has built a mobile blood testing device that reads disposable test strips and sends the readings to a smart phone for tracking.  The initial gadget is able to read only glucose or cholesterol levels from a drop of blood, but the company hopes to expand to perform some 200 tests. The first, glucose, version will cost $500 per year, including unlimited test strips.

Miramix is an online service based in Boston for people designing nutritional supplements to get custom blends of their products manufactured and shipped to consumers. The company says its automated “microfactory” dispenses tiny beads of substances into containers or capsules to create the custom blends. 

img Lir Scientific’s bladder fullness tracker. Photo: Tekla Perry

Lir Scientific, based in San Francisco, introduced a bladder fullness tracker. This $400 wearable device places electrodes and sensors on the abdomen to sense, by changes in the conductivity of the area, when the bladder is full, and then sends a signal to a smartphone alerting a user who, due to a medical problem, can’t naturally detect that condition. The company says its biggest competitors are adult diapers; it has done small scale testing and has planned a larger, pilot study with the University of California, San Francisco this year.

FeetMe, based in Paris, has developed smart insoles, each containing 100 pressure sensors that detect unusual pressure points as a user walks, and communicate any problems to a smartphone. Initially, the company founders indicated, the $300 footpads are targeted at diabetics who have lost sensitivity in their feet, but eventually FeetMe plans to make an athletic version for use in training. (Meanwhile, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research in Wurzberg, Germany, announced a similar approach to monitoring the feet of diabetics, using sensor-laden socks).

img Ouro_botics has created a printer that creates 3D objects out of human tissue. Photo: Tr3life

Ouro_botics, from Ireland, announced a tabletop 3-D printer for human tissue that, it promised, will be vastly cheaper than the $100,000 systems currently on the market. CEO Jemma Redmond says she’s been working on tissue printers for four years, starting with an artificial womb, then moving on to human fingers, when, she says, her funding was cut and she wanted to “give the university the finger.” 

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This CAD Program Can Design New Organisms

Genetic engineers have a powerful new tool to write and edit DNA code

11 min read
A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

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