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Stay home monitoring for lung disease patients – thanks to a special musical instrument

Benita Zahn
Updated: April 11, 2020 05:30 PM
Created: April 10, 2020 06:44 PM

It's said necessity is the mother of invention. That's proved true once again. Patients with cystic fibrosis need to have their lung function monitored. However, during the pandemic, it's best for them not to come to the hospital for that. Enter the Zephyrx.

After surgery, some patients need ongoing monitoring of their lung function. So Dr. Thomas Smith, a pulmonary critical care physician at Albany Med was involved in an NIH study using a device patients could use outside the hospital.

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However, when coronavirus erupted, that research took an important turn.

"Think about somebody waiting for a lung transplant. I need to know what their lung function is," said Smith.

Those would be his patients with cystic fibrosis - many on immune suppressive drugs. The last people you'd want at the hospital right now.

So how to monitor their lung function at home? Enter the Zephyrx.

"This is basically a portable spirometry lab. So it takes all the critical measurements that a pulmonologist would need to understand your lung health," said Dwight Cheu, Zephyrx CEO.

Battery-powered, it talks by Bluetooth to any kind of tablet that's had a special app downloaded.

In real-time, Dr. Smith can see how his patients are doing and adjust their medication if necessary.

"Last week, when I asked, can we do this - within 3 days they were in the mail. From a concept to in the mail," he said.

Then it was into the hands of 20 CF patients.

Hundreds more around the country will have them in short order as the Zephyrx has gained nationwide interest. Not just CF patients, but people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The breathing device - prescribed by a doctor, costs $100. The app costs $15 a month. Insurance covers it.

"So we had programmers on board for doing the research elements that we needed to do and it was a matter of tweaking it to get the reports out that we need and most of the work in the last week was creating a physician portal so I can see the results coming back," said Smith.

The guts of the Zephyrx have been around for years. Originally developed as a musical device, the Jamboxx, for physically challenged people who could only use their breath to make music.

While the Zephyrx isn't geared for coronavirus patients, Dr. Smith says it did help one patient.

"I did deploy this with one of my ill attendings with COVID, and he was able to monitor himself twice a day, and he was able to say, 'Well, this tracks the way I'm feeling.'"

The Zephyrx was developed in conjunction with BACC -  the Biomedical Acceleration and Commercialization Center at Albany Medical College.

Launched in 2015, it houses medical device and software start-up companies.


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