Why Blood Pressure Measurement Is Ripe for Innovation

It may surprise you to learn that we’ve been measuring blood pressure, one of the most important biomarkers of your health, the same way for more than 100 years.

We, at Vital Labs, are bringing blood pressure measurement into the 21st century by leveraging the intelligence in your pocket: your smartphone. But before I explain my company’s journey, let’s look back at the past, including how things have been done in this space to date.

Cardiovascular Care’s Past

In 1905, a Russian physician named Nikolai Korotkov presented a simple method for measuring blood pressure: occlude an artery in the arm, slowly release the pressure, and use a stethoscope to listen for the appearance and disappearance of blood pulsing through the artery.

The pressure measured by a cuff wrapped around the arm, when the sounds of blood pulsing appears and disappears, are diastolic (minimum) and systolic (maximum) blood pressure. This simple, non-invasive technique yielded an extremely important measurement of the cardiovascular system.

Today, blood pressure is a well understood biomarker with decades of research behind it, proving its prognostic and diagnostic value. We know that high blood pressure is bad because the force of the pulsing blood to our organs can cause damage over time. Very low blood pressure is also bad because critical organs, such as the brain, may not get the oxygen they need to function correctly.

While the underlying phenomena are dynamic within each heartbeat, and throughout the day, our current gold-standard measurement is a point-in-time snapshot of a person’s minimum and maximum pressure using the same technique that was used over 100 years ago.

We, at Vital Labs, think it’s time for blood pressure measurement to evolve from simple, point-in-time snapshots to dynamic, multidimensional measurements that encompass changes in a person’s cardiovascular system in each heartbeat and across different times of day.

Leading Cardiovascular Care Into the Future

The Vitality App

Across the industrialized world, a mini supercomputer lies in nearly every person’s pocket. This supercomputer is capable of not only processing tremendous amounts of information, but also acquiring large quantities of data in situ. The smartphone camera coupled with real-time graphics processing and the use of photoplythesmography, or PPG, allows for quick, easy, high-quality data captures of a person’s cardiovascular signature. PPG is an imaging technique that measures the change in light intensity as blood flows through arteries in soft tissue.

We leverage this technique to capture the blood-pulse waveform (BPW) in a person’s fingertip, at 1080p and 120 frames per second, using the camera on today’s iPhones. The dynamics of the BPW provide information on the state and changes in the cardiovascular system.

We at Vital Labs secured venture funding in order to spend the time needed in order to develop novel signal analysis techniques that allow us to use this data to report on the changes in a person’s blood pressure. We are rolling out this new technology in an app called Vitality, currently in private beta so we can learn, improve, and bring the very best technology to those managing their blood pressure.

The private-beta launch of the Vitality app is an exciting milestone for us, but it is merely the beginning of our journey. If we do our jobs right, we will transform cardiovascular healthcare, not just by improving upon technology from a century ago, but by delivering valuable new insights and biomarkers for the next one hundred years. At scale, the measurements we collect and our technology will allow us to provide a more nuanced picture of someone’s health. These other areas in which we hope to innovative span measuring arterial age, pulse-wave velocity, cognitive stress, and more.

Sign up for the private beta of the Vitality app here. Or, reach out to us directly at hello@vitallabs.co if you are interested in what we’re building or joining our team.