New ‘smart bra’ will monitor women’s heart health

The "smart bra" will help monitor women's heart beat and other biometrics.

A startup out of MIT is creating a wearable specifically aimed at better monitoring and understanding women’s cardiovascular health – and it’s a bra.

Bloomer Tech is developing flexible, washable circuits with sensors to be sewn into the lining of a bra. The smart bra device will monitor electrocardiogram signals from the heart (in addition to other biometrics) and send real-time data to a woman’s smartphone, as well as to her doctor. The startup aims to provide patients and doctors with more accurate data to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease.

Though preventable, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US, and more women die from heart disease than men. (Heart disease accounts for one of every three women’s deaths in the US every year.) Despite this, women are less represented than men in cardiovascular health research, leading to an information gap.

“We are at the infancy of understanding female cardiac health,” said co-founder Alicia Chong. “It may be the same organ, but symptoms and outcomes have significantly demonstrated to be very different [between genders]…It is also a preventable disease, but we encountered the issue of women with [cardiovascular disease], who are often underdiagnosed and undertreated because the information currently available on heart diseases have large amount of data gaps.”

Their patent-pending circuits will measure metrics on cardiac, respiratory and general health. This includes heart rate, heart rate variability, electrocardiogram, blood pressure, oxygen saturation in blood, body temperature, position of the body and movement of the body.

The sensors will send information to a patient’s smartphone in real time, so patients can note the context around any adverse symptom or discomfort. Patients can choose to share information with their doctor, who can also access information on a mobile platform–in real time or just during appointments. The app will also be programmed with the patient’s condition and doctor’s prescriptions and send push notifications based on activity (such as a reminder to take a walk if a patient has been sitting all day).

Chong, an electrical engineer and current graduate student studying engineering and integrated design and management at MIT, came up with the idea with four other researchers while studying at Singularity University, a program in Silicon Valley that brings together technologists to seek solutions to humanity’s biggest problems. Their founding team includes a doctor, a mechatronics engineer, a UI/UX designer and an international business expert.

Currently they are developing their prototype (and seeking feedback via their Facebook page) and will be testing on patients in January. At the moment they don’t plan to manufacture bras in-house. Instead, Chong said she envisions customers would purchase a bra from a third party intimates retailer, who would then send the article of clothing to Bloomer Tech. The startup will sew the sensor into the bra and send along to the customer. They haven’t settled on a price yet, and are still deciding whether to sell commercially or through reimbursement.

Bloomer Tech isn’t the only startup making bras smarter, (OMsignal recently released the OMbra, a sports bra with wearable tech for workouts) but they’re the only ones focused specifically on women’s heart health.

“By using a bra, the form factor of medical devices changes to ‘regular clothes,'” she said. “This allows for more natural and seamless observations in a manner that has never been done before and brings better understanding of women’s heart health and the best communication with their physician during daily mobility and activities, in order to be more conscious of the heart health during subtle daily tasks.”

This story was written as part of a Women in Tech fellowship sponsored by the GroundTruth Project and SiliconANGLE Media’s theCUBE. Other stories reported from the Anita Borg Institute’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference in Houston can be found at the TechTruth Women in Tech site.