Researcher’s skill set tackles monitoring of abnormal heart rhythms

David Linker is a UW cardiologist with engineering training and the technical chops to invent a device to improve monitoring and diagnosis of atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common abnormality in heart rhythm. The UW Center for Commercialization began working with Linker in 2004, providing a Commercialization Gap Fund award to develop a prototype device and identifying additional support from the Washington Research Foundation.

Five years later he received one patent and a second one is pending. Laura Dorsey in the UW Center for Commercialization has been working with Linker every step of the way. The Center also helped Linker establish a company, Cardiac Insight, Inc., that is working to partner with an existing medical device company to bring the technology to market.

More than two million Americans have atrial fibrillation, which increases with age, but they may be asymptomatic or only intermittently experience palpitations, shortness of breath, or chest pain. A routine physical exam is unlikely to detect the problem, and current bulky monitors can store heart rhythm data for only brief periods and may miss episodes. Patients with long-term AF are at greater risk for stroke and disability or death, consequences that could be prevented with better diagnosis and medication.

Linker solved the monitoring challenge by developing a mathematical algorithm that recognizes AF while discarding normal heart rhythms, and by designing a small, wearable device that weighs less than one ounce and can store data over a month of monitoring. It is 98% accurate in identifying AF, with a false positive rate four times lower than that of current devices. This inexpensive diagnostic approach could thus reduce health care costs and save lives.

“In addition to funding for the prototype, the UW Center for Commercialization provided invaluable help in understanding the complex market landscape,” Linker said. “I now have a National Institutes of Health grant to begin a small clinical study and hope to commercialize the device within the next year or two.”