Sanna Gaspard
© Sanna Gaspard
Finalist 2013 for North America

Sanna Gaspard

Rubitection, USA

Rubitection designs a low-cost high-tech device to detect and monitor early-stage pressure ulcers.

Approximately 2.5 million patients suffer from pressure ulcers in the US every year. Commonly known as bedsores, their banal-sounding name masks the dangers they hold: 60,000 people die every year as a direct result. Caused by constant pressure on a given area of the skin, they are typically found among bed-ridden or wheelchair-bound patients. ‘They primarily affect the elderly, a population that is expected to double in the next 15 to 20 years,’ says Sanna Gaspard, PhD, a biomedical engineer based in Pittsburgh who has invented a device to catch the early warning signs of pressure ulcers: the Rubitect Assessment System (R.A.S.) is a non-invasive optical reader that measures the skin to determine if an early-stage bedsore is forming or progressing.

Read the signs

At their most severe, pressure ulcers become open wounds. Current diagnostic protocol involves visual observation of erythema, or redness of the skin, and looking for an absence of blanching – the whitening of the skin when pressed. These methods are not failsafe, nor are they effective in all populations. ‘The darker the skin, the harder it is to detect visible signs,’ states Sanna, who explains that darker-skinned patients typically develop the most advanced wounds. Other tests depend on the clinician’s ability to detect a change in skin firmness and temperature. ‘The R.A.S. gives caregivers an objective way to apply the recommended diagnostic evaluation protocol in America and Europe.’ Pressure ulcer treatment includes turning the patient frequently to avoid adding pressure to the area, dressing the wound, removing tissue and even surgery. In 2007, Medicare evaluated that a pressure ulcer added US$43,180 to the cost of a hospital stay in the US. In 2008 it stopped reimbursing hospitals for ‘facility-acquired’ bedsores, i.e. those contracted while in care.

This was the time that Sanna was developing her technology as part of her doctoral research at Carnegie Mellon University. ‘There is a real demand for reliable, objective assessment tools,’ says Sanna. She also cites the costly lawsuits filed by families whose loved ones die or receive amputations due to bedsores – 17,000 claims are made each year – that healthcare institutions have to face. The R.A.S. applies a method called tissue reflectance spectroscopy, ‘which measures and analyses the light reflecting off the tissue.’ The device is low cost and easy to use. ‘There is no need for additional training to interpret the results.’ Just pass the optical reader on the skin, which is protected from contamination or infection thanks to a disposable sterility ‘skirt’ – a cover that slips over the device and is replaced on each use. The results are read on the screen. With a projected classification as a Class I FDA medical device, the R.A.S. should have a quick path to what Sanna estimates is a US$2.9 billion market.

Ladies first

Sanna is running Rubitection single-handedly at present and working to build strategic partnerships. As a young woman in the high-tech field, she finds it challenging to break the barriers she faces, with the all-too-classic ‘where’s the CEO?’ scenarios when she pitches her business. ‘I’m just so pleased to be meeting an international network of female entrepreneurs through the Awards. Sometimes I go months in my business without seeing another woman entrepreneur!’

About the project

Talking to our 2013 finalists - Healthcare

Four of our 2013 finalists talk about their healthcare businesses.

What's new?

Rubitection was awarded a National Science Foundation Phase I Small Business Innovation Grant . The grant will help develop clinical prototypes.