Everyone knows it: as soon as you go to the doctor, your blood pressure is measured. And not without reason. High blood pressure is a widespread medical problem and, in the worst case, contributes to the development of heart attacks and strokes. However, the medical examination is only a snapshot of the values and says nothing about the time until the next doctor’s visit. The startup The Koala Sleeve has addressed this problem. It is developing a device suitable for everyday use that can be worn around the clock and thus enables patients to continuously monitor their blood pressure between doctor’s visits. In an interview with 5-HT, Prof. Dr. Hermann von Lilienfeld-Toal, one of the three founders of The Koala Sleeve, explains how the device differs from other measuring devices and why it offers a great advantage for its users.
Why even daily measurement is usually not enough
The retired chief physician points out the following problem: “Blood pressure is present 24 hours a day and can constantly change due to a wide variety of influences”. Although some approaches, such as long-term and self-measuring devices, as well as optical methods within smart devices, exist and enable a more regular control of blood pressure, they are often very complex and complicated in their application, not suitable for everyday use or simply inaccurate. However, especially for patients who take high blood pressure pills, continuous monitoring and logging of the values would be enormously important.
Big problem – simple solution
“Koala Sleeve has a completely different idea to solve this problem”, says Prof. Dr .von Lilienfeld-Toal. The startup is currently developing a non-stretchable band that consists of a pressure-sensitive textile sensor. The band prevents the tissue of the arm from expanding and contracting under the pressure fluctuations of the artery. The sensor can then detect the expansion as pressure and transmit the corresponding values to an additional device, for example a watch device. At best, the band should be worn together with this device 24 hours a day, so that the wearer has an insight into his or her current blood pressure values at all times and can recognise which situations cause them to change.
For Prof. Dr. von Lilienfeld-Toal, the advantages of the measuring device are obvious: “The main advantage is that it can be carried very easily and lightly and does not interfere with everyday life. Also, the information transmitted is enormously important.” Long-term logging of blood pressure is of great value, he says. The patient can evaluate this in consultation with the doctor and see whether he is taking his medication correctly and thus avoid further consequences of high blood pressure.
The founder also sees clear advantages in comparison to the competition: “As a rule, the development of medical devices takes a very long time. What we have in mind is comparatively simple. I think that should be said loud and clear. Our approach is much clearer and simpler than the alternative methods and doesn’t take 10 years to succeed.”
Hugs you like a koala – why is that?
Through his experience as a diabetologist, Prof. Dr von Lilienfeld-Toal knows that some patients find the constant association with medical technologies unpleasant. That is why it is all the more important for the startup to link the device with a positive association, he says. “A koala is the perfect symbol for a device that wraps around the entire upper arm. Just as the koala embraces the tree, it also creates a symbiosis between the wearer and the band. Moreover, the animal is a positive expression. Imagine having a device on your body with your stroke prevention device on it,” jokes the founder.
Medical device or lifestyle product?
“Of course, our impulse is a medical one.” The startup is primarily targeting patients who have had high blood pressure logged in their medical history. “However, medical devices are subject to a huge amount of regulation, so getting approved as one takes some time. We will certainly work towards having the device recognised as a medical product in the long run so that it can be prescribed by the doctor,” says the retired chief physician. The second group to be addressed are people who actively take care of their health and like to monitor themselves. Prof. Dr.von Lilienfeld-Toal can imagine a 2-step path: “Koala Sleeve is first available in the sports shop, then in the pharmacy.”
So I can’t buy the device yet?
Currently, the startup is still in the founding phase. It only went public in mid-2020 after filing a patent application. “Before the application, we kept covered and conducted experiments for the time being,” says Prof. Dr. von Lilienfeld-Toal. “Through various situations, we provoked the blood pressure in us and compared the measurement results with the values of a blood measurement system running in parallel. The correlations turned out to be very good. We are optimistic that this comparatively simple system really is a proven solution to a major problem and that the application will also be approved.”
At the moment, the startup sees two fields of development ahead of it. On the one hand, the electronic evaluation and provision of the data to a suitable device would have to take place. Secondly, The Koala Sleeve needs a production site for the solid technological production of the printed textile: “We have a lot of experience in this area and know how it works. Nevertheless, we currently lack a suitable laboratory in which we can set up a production line.”
Currently, the startup is still financing itself out of its own cash. Therefore, it is of enormous importance to find an investor quickly in order to be able to further expand the product. “If we manage to find someone who is convinced of our idea, we can really get going and start a 0 series,” explains the founder.
Back to the start
The idea for the product originally came from a completely different angle. “During my time as an active diabetologist, I myself was part of a project that developed such a pressure textile for diabetics and consequently for a different purpose. The project had to be terminated due to external reasons, but the technology remained,” says Prof. Dr.von Lilienfeld-Toal. Together with his co-founders he considered how the technology could still be applied and how they could make a contribution to society and medicine.
How can 5-HT support the koala?
By joining the 5-HT ecosystem and the cooperation, the startup hopes for support in two different aspects: “On the one hand, we need rooms that we can use for the production of our devices. On the other hand, it would be nice if 5-HT could support us in the area of financing and establish relevant contacts here.”