$5M boosts under-mattress device for heart failure patients

South Bend, Ind. (December 5, 2023)A South Bend-based startup is one step closer to market with a device for heart failure patients that—tucked under their home mattress—monitors the body for a common complication: fluid overload. Vital View Technologies Co-founder and CEO Ray Fraser says the high-tech sensor could help doctors watch a critical piece of data when patients leave the hospital and provide peace of mind for the nearly 7 million Americans living with heart failure—Fraser’s brother among them.

“When you think about the spirit of [the University of Notre Dame], not only is [the school] a huge fan of seeing technology make it to market,” says Fraser, “but if it can have impact on the quality of lives and quality of care, that’s a home run.”

The startup, which recently closed a $4.6 million round of funding, is part of the university’s IDEA Center and could be a great leap forward in monitoring methods for heart failure patients. Fluid overload is a common problem for these patients; the heart’s inability to pump enough oxygen-rich blood causes fluid to build up in the body and can lead to fluid in the lungs.

Fraser says the funding round, led by two Indiana-based organizations, will support the next critical steps.

The funding was co-led by Washington-based Pier 70 Ventures, which has a presence in Indianapolis. The firm’s management team includes Shaun Hawkins, who previously served as vice president of Lilly New Ventures for Eli Lilly and Co.

The Notre Dame Pit Road Fund at the IDEA Center was the other co-lead in the round. Elevate Ventures also participated in the round.

Fraser says patients are told to weigh themselves regularly to monitor for fluid overload, but research shows weight gain is a poor indicator for the condition.

“Symptoms of [fluid overload] don’t typically occur until it’s too late,” says Fraser, who earned his MBA at Notre Dame. “By the time your ankles start to swell, you’re already starting to retain fluid in your lungs.”

The startup is commercializing a sensor for patients to use at home to detect fluid overload sooner; the flat device slides under the patient’s mattress to continually monitor total body fluid change. Called Vital Sense, the device is based on discoveries made by Notre Dame Electrical Engineering Professor Dr. Thomas Pratt in the area of dielectric sensing.

“[Vital Sense] is based on advances in radio frequency technology; basically, it’s transmitting a signal through space, and it’s reflecting off the body. We’re able to capture more information from those signals than was ever thought possible,” says Fraser. “When a signal reflects off fluid, it has a unique signature, and we’re able to pick up that unique signature; this allows us to develop our total body fluid sensor.”

Fraser says other devices on the market to monitor fluid overload include implantables, “but they’re very expensive,” and wearables, which can trigger false positives, be placed improperly or cause skin irritation.

“Being able to get that data point and be contactless—that’s where we’re unique,” says Fraser. “It would be a game changer when it comes to keeping heart failure patients out of the hospital.”

Fraser says the startup modified the original concept for the device to satisfy a bigger market need, based on advice from Dr. Rick Snyder, the startup’s chief medical officer.

Vital Sense also alerts the patient and care team if the fluid level exceeds a safe threshold that’s unique to each person. The startup says, for heart failure patients, fluid overload is responsible for 90% of hospital readmissions, many of them preventable. Fraser says the device, prescribed by doctors, would be covered by insurance and could take a bite out of a $40 billion market, “and that’s just the cardiology niche.”

The startup is confident the same technology will open the door to additional sensors that could monitor other data points like heart rate and respiratory rate, or a multi-sensor that collects several inputs simultaneously.

“Bringing [Vital Sense] to market really excites me, as well as the different areas we think this can go afterwards,” says Fraser, “because we know fluid monitoring isn’t just impactful for heart failure patients, but also kidney dialysis patients, for example.”

Fraser also draws inspiration from his brother, who was born with type 1 diabetes. Fraser can relate to the fear of unmonitored medical conditions; he has childhood memories of trying to wake his brother when his blood sugar dropped while they were sleeping, a common scenario that can cause seizures. As a result of diabetes, his brother was recently diagnosed with heart failure.

“My parents and I have been very thankful that [Vital View Technologies] has been putting this work in; if my brother is able to use this device in the coming years, that’d be great. And for other families going through the same thing, it’d be a big deal,” says Fraser. “One of the things we like saying at Notre Dame is ‘What’s worth fighting for?’ I think this is a clear example of something that definitely is.”

Original story here.