Digital Medicine & Wearable Technology
Author: Megan Carey
Status: Project Concept
Roughly 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under age 18 (about 1 in 13 children). A food allergy triggers a harmful immune response called an allergic reaction, which occurs because the immune system attacks proteins in the food that are normally harmless. The symptoms of an allergic reaction to food can range from mild (itchy mouth, hives) to severe (throat tightening, difficulty breathing). Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is sudden and can cause death. Once anaphylaxis starts, the drug Epinephrine is the only effective treatment. Epinephrine should be injected within minutes of the onset of symptoms. More than one dose may be needed. Spring-loaded syringes of Epinephrine, called Epinephrine auto-injectors or EpiPens are the common use for treating anaphylaxis.
Epinephrine auto-injectors are the only current treatment proven to halt a food allergy reaction before it becomes deadly. Many people won’t carry their EpiPen around with them because it won’t fit into their pocket and are described as “large, impractical, and bulky.” An EpiPen’s Epinephrine solution isn’t particularly shelf-stable and will easily degrade in temperatures that are too low or too high. They expire after about a year and are simply not user-friendly. Though EpiPens come with a practice kit, users in the midst of an allergy attack have mistaken which ends is the pointy end and stabbed their thumbs instead of their thighs. Needless to say, while often effective when administered correctly, EpiPens just add to the stress of the already life-threatening situation. The company that is in charge of these EpiPens is called Mylan, and shows little incentive to improve EpiPens. Basically, you have to know how to use it, or else your life is on the line.
All of this, obviously, is even more difficult and confusing for children.
Thus, I wanted to think of something that would stem a new generation of Epinephrine delivery. The solution I came up with, my abstract idea, is the “Epi-Implant.” It is wearable technology that monitors histamine levels in the blood and releases Epinephrine when it is too high. In other words, when an individual is having an allergic reaction, they do not have to stress about self-injecting, rather the device can detect the reaction and administer the proper amount of Epinephrine as needed. As for the issue of the solution degrading in extreme temperatures, the Epi-Implant will be attached to a body at all times and thus have a self-regulated temperature system as opposed to being left in hot or cold locations.
This innovation will be particularly helpful for children, who may be too young to know how to, when to, or where to administer an EpiPen. Mothers and fathers can be at ease knowing their child doesn’t have to carry around an EpiPen with risk of losing it, and the child doesn’t have to take that long walk to the nurse’s office to stop a reaction, rather the process will become completely automated.