Bob Messerschmidt, an award-winning leader in the field of spectroscopy, told me during my video interview with him at the 2014 HealthTech Conference that “we have been measuring blood pressure in the same way for the past 150 years.” He went on to say that his company, Nueon, has come up with a better, probably more accurate and clinically relevant, way of determining blood pressure.
Currently, blood pressure is measured by use of a sphygmomanometer, whether the old-fashioned ones that are manually inflated by squeezing a rubber bulb and listening (we say auscultating) for Korotkoff sounds or the newer digital devices that auto-inflate and use oscillometric measurements and electronic calculations rather than auscultation.
A HbA1c-like test for blood pressure measurement
It turns out that the membranes of red blood cells change their deformability when they are exposed to the increased shear stresses related elevated blood pressure. The molecular changes underlying the increased deformability can be measured optically and, Bob says, the signal that is generated is quite large.
Like the blood glucose measurement hemoglobin A1c that also measures changes in red blood cells (RBCs), this measurement will give a reading that correlates with average blood pressure readings of about three months. Clinically, this is probably much more important than a single blood pressure reading obtained during an office visit.
Bob says the technology that measures RBC deformability already exists. What needs to be done next is to design clinical trials to demonstrate that the readings generated by the optical signals really represent an average blood pressure over the stated time frame.
Nueon is now raising a funding round to carry out those clinical trials. He estimates that it will take a few years to get the results and then the company will need to go through the FDA approval process before the new test will be available in clinical settings.
Who knows? Perhaps in a few years we will have a finger prick blood draw to measure blood pressure instead of a blood pressure cuff. This could be a real game changer in the management of this common disorder.