By 2030, millions of global working hours will be lost due to heat stress and dehydration, and countless lives will be at risk. A potent new Australian technology launched at The Australian National University today by partners WearOptimo and Aspen Medical has the answers.
Microwearable sensors being developed by Brisbane-based health-tech company, WearOptimo, will give the wearer an instant read-out of body water or hydration level.
"By providing individuals with a measure of their own hydration, action can be taken immediately, before performance is impaired or health is risked," WearOptimo Founder and CEO Professor Mark Kendall said.
"With higher global temperatures, the Asia-Pacific region especially will experience serious productivity losses from workers who become dehydrated. The elderly and sick are also at heightened risk. The healthcare costs of dehydration run into many billions of dollars."
The new strategic partnership between WearOptimo and Canberra-based Aspen Medical will take the Australian-designed microwearable sensors to the world market.
Microwearables are low-cost, 'sticker-like' sensors that monitor critical signs in the patient, enabling timely medical intervention and better recovery planning, Professor Kendall said.
"They resemble a small sticker equipped with layers of electronic sensors that read what is going on inside the patient's body. By deploying microstructures which go just a hair's breadth into the skin, they access vital health biomarkers in a minimally-invasive and pain-free way."
Versions of the device can monitor not only a person's hydration, but also assist in the early diagnosis of heart attack or sense inflammatory markers which are critical in responding to infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
"WearOptimo's microwearable sensors are designed to access patient's vital signs, in situations where time really matters," Professor Kendall said. "In the case of a heart attack, early warning is the difference between life and death."
The partnership between WearOptimo, ANU and Aspen Medical is a strategic step in the creation of a new category of health technology which meets the growing demands of personalised medicine, Professor Kendall said.
"Most of today's drugs, vaccines, and other treatments have been created with a 'one size fits all' approach. Our microwearable sensors are designed to enable doctors and patients to fine-tune treatment to precisely suit their condition at the time."
Microwearable sensors are low-cost - a few dollars each, is the current estimate - can be manufactured in bulk and are on a fast-track for development and release for public use for a range of health conditions.
Professor Kendall said the plan is to manufacture within Australia, creating local jobs, and export globally with the help of Aspen Medical.
"The global medical device market is a tough one for small players. Our plan is to meet that through outstanding ideas and 'wall-to-wall' excellence in people, technology, and capital. Australia is already a world leader in medical devices, and our goal is to build on that reputation," he said.
"We're delighted to be partnering with WearOptimo and excited about the potential for microwearable devices across the resources, aged care and defence sectors, where heat stress awareness is an ongoing concern," Aspen Medical Founder and Executive Chairman Glenn Keys AO said.
WearOptimo is The Australian National University's first partner innovation company, launched in 2018 to research, develop and commercialise wearable medical devices.
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said innovative partnerships between universities and cutting-edge companies to take ideas from the lab to the world had never been more vital.
"As we look to rebuild Australia after the COVID-19 pandemic, we need sovereign capability to drive innovation in manufacturing, including in med-tech," he said.
"This partnership between WearOptimo and Aspen Medical will do just that. It will see two Australian-based companies playing a leading global role in the future of health, while improving the lives of millions of Australians and people all over the globe.
"The tech may be micro; the impact will be huge."
About the partners:
WearOptimo is an Australian technology company developing the next generation in microwearable devices for continuous monitoring in precision healthcare.
Aspen Medical is a global provider of innovative and tailored healthcare solutions across the government, non-government organisation and private sectors. The company is the only commercial organisation in the world certified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an Emergency Medical Team for infectious disease outbreaks and was the 2018 National Exporter of the Year.
The Australian National University works with WearOptimo under the University's Innovation Institutes scheme to advance Australia's role in developing wearable, smart technology that will dramatically improve world access to healthcare.