Wearable graphene sensor for detecting and preventing diabetic foot ulcers
Linh Le and Malcolm Nason want to help people with diabetes prevent the foot problems so common in the disease. They’re developing wearable sensors that monitor foot temperature and alert patients at risk for hard-to-treat ulcers.
“People with diabetes develop problems with their vascular system, and lose the ability to regulate the temperature of their feet,” Nason says. “The feet start to retain heat, which is really bad for tissues. Because diabetes also damages the nerves of the feet, patients don’t know they’re developing blisters or other injuries.”
Nason and Le founded their company, Bonbouton, to develop smart clothes that monitor body temperature, breathing, heart rate, muscle movements, and more. They incorporate unobtrusive, ultra-thin sensors created from the nanomaterial graphene, using graphene oxide printing technology Le refined as a doctoral student.
Smart clothes could prove valuable in athletic training, military outfitting, or medical monitoring. Initially, the Bonbouton team has focused on the latter, drawing on Nason’s background in the neurobiology of thermoregulation.
Like so many startup stories, theirs began at a networking event. Le knew the CEO of the company Nason was working for, and struck up a conversation. The pair reconnected once Le started researching potential directions for wearable technology.
The resulting marriage of materials and medical applications earned Bonbouton a spot in the Digital Health Breakthrough Network’s spring 2017 class, a unique opportunity to evaluate the company’s diabetes-monitoring concept.
“This would be extremely difficult to do on our own,” Le says. “We’ve developed relationships with a few podiatrists, but getting access to institutional review boards and running a trial would be a challenge.”
“HITLAB has the structure and connections,” Nason adds. “Their help might save us two years and a quarter million dollars or more.”
Both founders pursued academic paths before becoming digital health entrepreneurs. They say New York City is the perfect place for people like them.
“The health care systems on the east and west coasts are very different,” Le says. “I think there’s just more opportunity to engage here.”
Nason agrees. “Your can go to a pitch competition every night of the week,” he says. “There’s a lot of interest, talent, and energy looking for something to stick to, and New York is working to make that happen.”