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Health analysis & virus detection: Can spectral sensing provide missing data?

Dr. Bassem Saadany
5 min Read
March 23, 2023

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Now that we live in an age of highly infectious diseases, we need ways to help keep vulnerable but non-urgent patients out of the hospitals and safe at home. Teleconsultations are helpful, allowing the physician or medical staff to query the patient, but doctors aren’t able to truly understand the patient’s condition. Current bloodwork is not available, urine specimens can’t be provided or instantly analyzed, the doctor can’t palpate locations on the body to determine pain levels, listen to heart rhythm or detect lung congestion. How can we really know what’s going on?

A primary avenue under development by the industry is sensors that provide a consistent stream of reliable medical data, coupled with AI that can assist the doctor in detecting negative trends or concerning spikes for key biological markers. However, while the advent of wearables has made certain kinds of general data available, the accuracy of such external devices is still in question. Most wearable devices have not been approved by the FDA, and even heart rate readings can be skewed by movement and sweat. And wearables still can’t offer any continuous chemical analysis, although minimally invasive glucose monitoring patches might arguably be considered wearables.

Clearly, in the era of pandemics, we need to up our game and invest in higher quality, high-accuracy sensors for consistent and reliable data. Remote spectral sensing, based on near infrared technology (NIR), is one avenue that offers a solution with a high degree of precision. No longer is material analysis limited to the lab – it can be integrated into a smart home infrastructure or simply used at home as a stand-alone analysis tool.

Spectral Sensing for Chronic Disease

Si-Ware’s NeoSpectra spectral sensor has been adopted by Medic.Life for use in its smart toilet. The company was looking for a sensor that could detect various analyte levels in urine, such as urea, creatinine, uric acid, sodium, chlorine, glucose, without patients having to disrupt their daily routines to come into the doctor’s office for testing. The toilet contains a slit allowing a light source to pass through urine, and a spectral image to be generated and compared to a cloud database. The toilet is able to monitor upward or downward level trends, a key to diagnosing certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, early.

NeoSpectra sensors offer doctors and patients a way to scan, detect and quantify blood or fluid samples for particular components, and send the results via smartphone to the cloud so the doctor can download the findings or look at trends over time. The NeoSpectra sensors also offer clinics and labs the ability to analyze bloodwork or other biofluids immediately onsite without having to send samples to a central lab for analysis.

Fighting COVID19 and Viruses Using Spectral Sensing

As viruses have become more widespread, more medical teams have expressed an interest in using NIR spectral sensing to detect the presence of viruses in specific kinds of samples. In the case of the ZIKA virus that made its way through the Americas in 2015 and 2016, researchers were able to detect the virus in mosquito specimens using benchtop NIR spectrometers. Now that spectral sensors can be easily integrated into handheld devices, the medical community is excited to see the potential for virus detection directly from the field.

Since the outbreak of COVID19, Si-Ware’s research team has been in touch with international research organizations to identify the virus’ spectral signature. If the spectral signature can be measured and modeled accurately enough with NeoSpectra sensors, then this could enable early detection — within seconds — of the presence of COVID19 in a sample from a swab or blood.

Spectral Sensing for Pharma

Spectral sensing can also play a major role in the pharmaceutical market. Counterfeit or mislabeled drugs are a major cause of illness and death. According to StatNews, every year 250,000 children with malaria and pneumonia do not survive after treatment with fake and substandard drugs. The World Health Organization says that in developing countries, 1 in 10 drugs is falsified or substandard, costing public health and society $200 billion annually.

Pharmacists, clinics and patients have the opportunity to fight counterfeiting and ensure safety by using spectral scanning in the pharmacy, in the doctor’s office, or in the hospital. A small handheld scanner that incorporates a sensor like the NeoSpectra-Micro could ultimately be made available to patients on a fixed long-term drug regimen to ensure that they themselves can ascertain that there is no variation in the drug content. Such a capability could even alert patients to a different filler being used if the drug manufacturer changes.

More Real-Time Analysis is Coming for Healthcare

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced industries to rethink the way they do business, and healthcare is at the top of the list.  More than ever, medical professionals need ways of diagnosing patients quickly and potentially remotely.  Additionally, being able to do more continuous monitoring, say from home, will have major benefits for long-term healthcare.  One of Si-Ware’s missions is to enable NeoSpectra sensing solutions for the better health and well being of the world.

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