The Vital Signs are Good for "One Room"

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A new device developed by UW Tacoma students through their startup "One Room" could help people living with heart disease.

A group of University of Washington Tacoma students want to change how you check one of your most important vital signs.  Seniors Jeff Lytle, Jared Herdlevar, William Jensen and Mindy Huynh along with alumna Sarah Lytle are working on a device that uses light to measure blood pressure.

The members of One Room from left to right: Jared Herdlevar, Jeff Lytle, William Jensen, Mindy Huynh.  Not pictured Sarah Lytle.  Photo by Cody Char.High blood pressure can be an indicator of heart disease, which kills more than 600,000 Americans every year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Traditional monitors use a cuff to manipulate the blood flow through an artery in order to determine a patient’s blood pressure. 

“Our device uses pulse transit time,” said Jeff Lytle.  “Basically it takes the pulse at two different points in your body, one closer to your heart and one further away. When your heart beats it creates a pulse wave that runs down your arm which you can use to determine blood pressure.”

The group – who has since formed an LLC called One Room – started working on the project as part of their computer engineering capstone. Students create and develop their idea over a period of two quarters. “In the beginning they’re working on learning how to design a project and making presentations about the project to the entire class,” said Institute of Technology lecturer Robert Gutmann.

During this phase students take feedback from classmates and improve their designs with the goal of having a working prototype.  “It’s not supposed to be a hobby-type activity,” said Gutmann.

Many of the groups in the capstone course have a particular audience in mind. Some are even building their projects for outside organizations like the MultiCare Good Samaritan Children’s Therapy Unit in Puyallup.   “They wanted some kind of sensor that could detect when there was a sleeping issue so we have one group working on that,” said Gutmann.

Lytle and his team are fine-tuning their blood-pressure-monitoring prototype and plan to market it to people with heart problems and those who use wearables like Fitbit. “When you get on a scale every day, you to tend to lose more weight because you have that reinforcement, either positive or negative. This is the same idea we wanted to pursue with blood pressure,” said Lytle.

The device uses light to calculate the volume of blood in the finger which can be used to determine blood pressure. Photo by Cody Char.

One Room has received financial support from at least one private company and was also granted a $2,500 National Science Foundation I-Corps grant.  The group has rented space inside the Tioga building on campus. The name “One Room” is a reference to the workshop and an overall philosophy.  “Since we don’t have a lot of time or money we’re doing this all in-house,” said Lytle.

The group spends long hours in their home away from home.  The space is stocked with coffee, instant noodles, sleeping bags, and an assortment of board games that help break the tension during long nights of trial and error. 

Lytle’s desk is a mosaic of different tools and hardware.  He’s working on the circuit; his wife Sarah is building an app that will store blood pressure data.  William Jensen is developing the code while Mindy Huynh does the math behind the metrics.  Jared Herdlevar serves as the project manager and handles the business end of the project.

One Room’s eventual goal is to create a device that is small enough to slip on the end of a finger.  The information will automatically be transmitted to an app that a patient can share with his or her doctor.  “It’s going to have two to three steps to setup like age, sex, and weight to get the algorithm to work,” said Lytle.

A simplified, less intrusive process might help lower the number of heart disease related deaths; a point not lost on the group.  “If you’re going to die early it’s probably going to be from heart disease,” said Lytle.  “What can we do about that?  What can we as computer engineers do to help solve this problem?”

The answer to that question just may be emerging from one room in the Tioga Building.

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Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / April 13, 2016
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu