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October 2020

Time for COVID-19 early detection and monitoring

At a glance
The team

Former Mitacs Accelerate Entrepreneur intern and co-founder of VitalTracer, Azadeh Dastmalchi, PhD candidate in biomedical engineering at the University of Ottawa supervised by Engineering Professor Hilmi Dajani. VitalTracer’s team received sponsor support from District 3 Innovation Centre and Foundation Arbour.

The challenge

Early-detecting COVID-19 symptoms and monitoring vital signs in real-time.

The solution

Using optical sensors and artificial intelligence to create a first-of-its-kind medical-grade smartwatch that continuously measures all five vital signs and provides cardiac monitoring.

The outcome

A new tool to address symptoms of COVID-19, an easy way to monitor seniors in group residences, and the launch of a small business.

Montréal-based small business launches a smartwatch that measures the blood oxygen level, body temperature, and heart rate, enabling early detection of COVID-19 symptoms and support for seniors in residences.

Quebec entrepreneur and former Mitacs intern Azadeh Dastmalchi developed a medical-grade smartwatch after struggling to find a device that could help her father monitor his hypertension. Now, in addition to targeting the one in three adults suffering from high blood pressure in North America, her company VitalTracer is pivoting its solution to assist with early detection and monitoring of COVID-19 symptoms.

Dastmalchi’s groundbreaking VT-19 smartwatch is comfortably worn on the wrist and is the first of its kind to continuously measure all five vital signs and provide cardiac monitoring in one device. These measurements include blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen saturation, body temperature, and electrocardiogram (ECG) and photoplethysmography (PPG) signals.

In addition to being a medical-grade device, what sets the VT-19 smartwatch apart from other remote monitoring solutions is the ability to perform all tasks from a cost-effective, low-power wearable device, without the need to switch to a blood pressure cuff or use a tablet.

“We originally came up with the idea to combine biosensors and artificial intelligence to monitor blood pressure from the wrist, but we quickly discovered that our approach lent itself well to measuring other vital signs as well,” explained Dastmalchi, who is a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering at the University of Ottawa.

Supervised by Faculty of Engineering Professor Hilmi Dajani she first counted on Mitacs’s support through the Accelerate Entrepreneur program to develop her idea and establish her start-up in 2018. Since then, VitalTracer has hired six postdoctoral fellows and PhD students to support the R&D of the company.

Game-changer device for hospitals and health care facilities

With clinical trials currently underway to validate the device for Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certification, VitalTracer is expected to be a game-changer for personalized medicine. The product targets both remote monitoring of patients at home and post-surgical monitoring.

“Due to the pandemic, seniors in long-term care facilities are suffering, and to stay safe, their loved ones need to monitor their vital signs daily, which is a very difficult and time-consuming task,” Dastmalchi said. “Our device is tailor-made to help.”

Due to its ability to track bio-signals in an easy-to-wear form, VitalTracer’s smartwatch can provide real-time monitoring of flu-like symptoms such as altered heart rate, fever, cough, and increased sleep that are similar to those of COVID-19 and that can help detect cases early and isolate effectively.

At the same time, the smartwatch can provide monitoring of hypotension, low blood oxygen saturation, and recurring fever to proactively monitor long-term care residents who test positive, thus enhancing their care and improving outcomes.

VitalTracer currently has the watches available for pre-order on its website to health care facilities. The company also has an academic version of its product ready for Canadian researchers to use in long-term care settings, including a version that can be worn like a patch by people who suffer from dementia.

The disruptive product and resulting start-up earned Dastmalchi the Mitacs Social Entrepreneur Award on September 2, 2020, in recognition of her efforts to develop her research into an innovative business that impacts the lives of Canadians. VitalTracer is also a recipient of funding from AGE-WELL and Mitacs that supports small businesses in developing COVID-19 solutions for seniors.

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from multiple partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country.

For information on partnering with Mitacs to manage innovation, visit Mitacs’s small business enterprise page.