Texas A&M leads $35M effort to develop implantable remote monitoring devices for underserved communities

Patient wearable doc tablet
Biomedical engineers from four universities are developing implantable devices that can track data on diabetes and heart disease.

Backed by a $35 million federal grant, Texas A&M University System is leading a group of academic partners, private companies and federal agencies in a quest to develop cutting-edge, affordable technologies for underserved populations suffering from diabetes and heart disease.

The prestigious award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center will fund the Precise Advanced Technologies and Health Systems for Underserved Populations (PATHS-UP) initiative focused on developing implantable devices that can transmit data to physicians and help patients better manage diabetes and heart disease. An abstract on the NSF website indicates the coalition—which includes the University of California Los Angeles, Rice University and Florida International University—will develop “unique, ‘bar-code like’ biochemical marker implants” the size of a grain of rice that can send data to a wrist-worn device.

“If PATHS-UP’s chronic disease interventions are successful, they will have tackled a significant source of the skyrocketing national healthcare costs,” said Deborah Jackson, NSF program director for PATHS-UP, said in an announcement.

The NSF grant includes an initial five-year, $19.75 million award that can be renewed for an additional five years and $15.56 million. The initiative will be housed in Texas A&M’s new Health Technologies Building.

Gerard Coté, M.D., a Texas A&M professor of biomedical engineering who is leading the initiative, said affordability, access and quality have traditionally been three barriers for underserved populations in both rural and urban areas of the country. Providing those patients with the ability to monitor their chronic conditions at home, with the help of their physician, can improve quality of life as well as lower healthcare costs tied to unnecessary trips to the emergency room.

But he also emphasized the need to integrate this technology in a way that is embraced by underserved populations through broad outreach and community engagement efforts.

“In the past, we’ve had really good engineers developing really cool technologies without any idea about how those technologies would work in underserved communities,” he said in a video interview.

RELATED: Apple, Stanford and American Well reportedly testing Apple Watch to detect cardiac risks

The new initiative comes at a time when consumer-driven companies like Apple and Fitbit are exploring inroads to healthcare with new wearables that track health data. On Tuesday, during an unveiling of its new products, Apple announced a research partnership with Stanford Medicine to use Apple Watch to identify irregular heart rhythms and detects atrial fibrillation.

A spokesperson with Stanford Medicine acknowledged the new collaboration but declined to share any additional information with FierceHealthcare. American Well, which is also reportedly part of the partnership, also declined to comment.