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WIRED Health 2016 startup stage: algorithms and data llectors

WIRED Health is our annual exploration of the ever-changing world of healthcare, featuring leading technologists, entrepreneurs and innovators in sectors from robotics to virtual reality. For all our coverage from the event, head over to our WIRED Health hub.

The Bupa Startup Stage at WIRED Health 2016 showcased entrepreneurs and innovators at the cutting edge of medicine and health.

Eighteen startups gave nine-minute pitches to the judges – Simon Nicholls, Global Digital Health Director at Bupa, Tara Donnelly, Managing Director of the Health Innovation Network, Luc Dandurand, Head of ICT Applications at the International Telecommunication Union, and me – and barely a pitch went by without a mention of data.

For the first two startups below, data is the field of enquiry. Sorting through vast lumps of data – whether that’s in food, gut bacteria or records of conversations – allows them to generate fresh insights, backed (hopefully) by scientific observation.

The final three are data collectors. Not all data is created equal, and these startups have built new tools to harvest data, to make sure the material being used is of the best possible quality.

In November 2015, two Israeli scientists, Eran Segal and Eran Elinav, published a study arguing that "healthy food" meant very different things to different people, because of variation in the way sugar was absorbed into the blood.

The news that for some people ice cream and chocolate could be healthy created a global media storm, and seemed to kill off the one-size-fits-all model of nutrition.

Now Lihi Segal (no relation) is turning that insight into a business. Using the same research – exclusively licensed to her early stage company, DayTwo – Segal has developed a way analysing individuals’ gut microbiome to tell them what they can and can’t eat.

"Using next generation sequencing techniques we are processing all the bugs in your body and diving into your gut in order to understand what’s going on there," says Segal. "You get the information – what you need to eat in order to be healthy and have normalised blood sugar levels."

Where most people see a snack, Nora Khaldi sees data. Her Dublin-based startup, Nuritas, performs molecular analysis of foodstuffs to search for hidden health benefits, from preventing disease to killing bacteria.

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia are on the rise, but we have few ways to combat them, because they are so hard to detect and measure.

"These diseases are very, very gradual, so you have damage building up in the brain over many years," says Ronan Cunningham, CEO and co-founder of BrainWaveBank. "That makes it incredibly difficult to understand who has the early stages of the disease, and impedes our ability to develop new drugs that could delay onset."

BrainWaveBank is building a cheap EEG sensor, a wireless, high-resolution device with 16 dry sensors, for participants to wear while playing daily mobile games. As the data builds up, BrainWaveBank’s machine learning algorithms can learn to detect health, disease, and all the many stages in between.

BrainWaveBank’s initial focus is concussion, using contact sports as a target market. "Concussion we deliver immediate value on," says Cunningham. "The real challenge is going to be dementia and very subtle diseases."

In 2004, Danny Lange and Yossi Gross founded EarlySense, a company that placed sensors under mattresses to monitor people’s sleep. Twelve years later and EarlySense is thriving – but Lange and Gross have moved on, to focus on a new device that tracks the vital signs of people with chronic illnesses.

By taking data from the blood-rich radial artery on the inside of the wrist, the watch-like ChroniSense is able to measure arterial oxygen saturation, blood pressure, heart rhythm and activity, and pulse and breathe rates. With this range of indications, Lange says, the device can track chronic conditions including emphysema, congestive heart failure, asthma and cardiac arrhythmia – information it communicates directly to the medical team, allowing remote monitoring while the patient gets on with their life.

"This device is going to be prescribed by the physician," says Lange. "When you’re about to be discharged, the doctor will offer you the device to take home with you, so you can keep on being monitored. That’s how we’re going to penetrate the market – then we anticipate it will be good for consumer markets as well."

"The clinical setting is a poor proxy for the real world," says Ben Fehnert, co-founder of Ctrl Group (pronounced "control"). To collect more authentic data on mental health, his collection of designers, researchers, developers and medical experts built Cognition Kit, a suite of assessment software for conducting tests during everyday life.

Cognition Kit, which was released in April, allows researchers to conduct clinical test via smartphone and wearable. Developed with cognition testing firm Cambridge Cognition – one of the biggest testing companies in the world – it works with everything from the Apple Watch to the Microsoft Band.

"By using people’s own wearable and mobile technology you can reduce the barrier, reduce the cost and increase the sampling," says Fehnert. "You can use it to provide a rich, long term picture of cognitive health."

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