Splendo Health, a Durham-based offshoot of Netherlands-HQ’d Splendo, is making waves in cardiorespiratory technology with high-tech sensors and an innovative mobile app.
U.S. CEO Eric Sanchez and Chief Scientific Officer Jeroen Molinger, a clinical research program director at Duke University Medical Center, work alongside EU-based leaders including CEO Luc Demarteau to apply Splendo’s technology insights—driven by the research of Duke’s Molinger—to the cardiorespiratory field.
By connecting hi-tech sensors with a mobile app, Splendo hopes to provide better cardiorespiratory function (CRF) data. You can think of CRF like a “parallel, additional track” to heart rate variability (HRV), a type of variation in heart rate that is measured by wearable devices like Fitbits, Apple Watches or the Aura ring, Sanchez said.
“With HRV, you’re just really measuring beats between your heartbeats, the distance of that,” Sanchez said. “With CRF, now, we can measure that, plus how your lungs and your muscles properly and efficiently would use the oxygen as fuel for your body’s engine.”
Traditionally, CRF assessments require the person who is being tested to raise their heart rate by doing some kind of cardiovascular exercise, usually on a treadmill or a stationary bike, while wearing a mask to measure oxygen intake and sensors to measure heart rate.
The problems of this traditional model are myriad. This traditional model requires that a person be baseline healthy enough to perform physical activity, which can be difficult for the sick, disabled and elderly. The traditional model can also be costly, as it requires the labor of at least two nurses—one to monitor the patient and one to monitor the data—and requires access to expensive equipment, which can be debilitating for smaller or poorly-funded facilities.
From financial and geographic barriers to well-funded medical institutions to lack of ability to take an entire day off work to receive one assessment, traditional CRF has many disadvantages for poorer patients. Himself a product of a blue-collar background, Sanchez said, Splendo Health appealed to his sense of changing a “Frankensteinian” process to be more equitable. That’s one of the reasons he signed on to be Splendo Health’s stateside CEO earlier this year.
“It’s a health equity vision, really, because the assessments the way they are done today, they need doctor approval, insurance approval, they’re very complicated and they’re extremely expensive, which limits it to a very, very small portion of individuals who are going to get this,” Sanchez said. “Now, a CRF assessment or cardiorespiratory function assessment—which is what we do—can be done anywhere, anytime, realistically. That’s what we’re doing.”
Splendo Health revolutionizes CRF assessment technology by projecting the data on wearable sensors to a mobile app that is available on Android or iOS. A nurse applies three to four sensors to the patient, connects those sensors with the app, then monitors the patient’s CRF in a six-minute step test.
From start to finish, Splendo Health’s app reduces testing time from an hour or more to less than 25 minutes.
Requiring just a few sensors and a smartphone or tablet, Splendo’s technology has a much lower relative cost than traditional methods, making it more affordable to the community health clinics or primary care doctors who are most likely to see low-income and high-risk patients.
“We’re removing as many hurdles as possible, while maintaining the integrity of the CRF assessment,” Sanchez said.
Just as 15 years ago, HRV was virtually unknown outside of medical circles, Sanchez said Splendo looks to raise awareness of the importance of CRF assessment by making it more accessible to a wider audience.
The company is already working to expand its vision to partners across income and disciplinary backgrounds, with studies in the upcoming year in oncology clinics in Allegheny County, Pa., and data-driven wellness clinics for athletes in California.
Duke ties run deep
Duke University’s hospital system—the home of Molinger’s research—is another large rollout market for the technology, and an early supporter.
“Duke is an investor in Splendo Health,” Sanchez said. “Duke Hospital, they own 3% with the objective of refining an assessment, pre- and post-operative assessment format, using wearable technology, using platforms and using apps.”
By the end of 2023, Sanchez said, Splendo Health will have refined its technology through these providers, with a hopeful 2024 launch on the larger market. The company is seeking investment in its $4 million seed round. In 2023, Splendo also looks to be approved to incorporate in the United States and formally open its Triangle headquarters, joining the company’s medical research branch at Duke.
Though its team is spread across two continents and three time zones, Sanchez said Splendo Health is serious about putting down roots in the Triangle.
“Even though we’re all over the place, we do want to make the community proud,” Sanchez said. “When it’s all said and done, we definitely want to make the Raleigh-Durham area, and North Carolina, proud.”