Health tech: The 15 next big things, from easier dialysis to AI ultrasounds

Microsoft and Adaptive Biotechnologies’COVID-19 immune-response database, a phone app that records blood pressure, fraud-fighting edible barcodes, and more.

Health tech: The 15 next big things, from easier dialysis to AI ultrasounds

As you might guess, health-technology innovations relating to the COVID-19 pandemic are well represented among the winners of Fast Company’s first Next Big Things in Tech awards. But the winners and honorable mentions span a gamut of issues related to medical challenges, including a new device that makes dialysis less of a burden, tools for keeping people out of the hospital, and even a way for people with paralysis to control computers through brain waves.


See a full list of Next Big Things in Tech winners across all categories here.


For measuring blood pressure through smartphones
Using the camera on a smartphone, Biospectal’s OptiBP app can record a user’s blood pressure through a fingertip in just 20 seconds. The WHO is currently validating the technology in a large-scale global study.

For mapping plants’ chemical diversity and using it for medicine
The Forager platform leverages large-scale data processing and machine learning to get a deeper understanding of the compounds within plants to identify potential medical applications. For example, the company used it to identify a compound that it’s testing as a treatment for fatty liver disease.
[Illustration: Noma Bar]
Caption Health
For adding intelligence to ultrasounds
Caption Health’s ultrasound uses AI to guide healthcare providers through the imaging process and offer preliminary interpretations of scans. This year, the company used the technology to monitor cardiac impacts from COVID-19.

ClosedLoop AI
For giving doctors new insight into health outcomes
This company’s technology predicts health outcomes for patients—whether they’re currently in the hospital or have been discharged—so doctors can make care plans to prevent readmission. It is a winner of Medicare’s AI health outcomes challenge.

Microsoft and Adaptive Biotechnologies
For using data to create a test for past COVID-19 infection
The tech giant teamed up with Adaptive Biotechnologies to create ImmuneCODE, an open-source database of immune responses to COVID-19, which they used to develop an affordable T cell test to detect past infection. The companies are using the platform to understand how the immune system reacts to the virus both after previous infection and post-vaccination.

Outset Medical
For making dialysis less of a burden
Chronic kidney disease affects 15% of Americans. Outset’s compact Tablo dialysis machine, which combines water purification and dialysate production (which clears impurities out of the blood), can be used in both treatment centers and at home, increasing access for patients who can’t get to a dialysis center.

Sherlock Biosciences
For applying CRISPR’s power to COVID-19 testing
Sherlock’s CRISPR-based COVID test—the first FDA-authorized use of the gene-editing tech—is sensitive and can deliver results in roughly one hour. After receiving emergency use authorization for a point-of-care version, the company is working on an at-home version that will be a handheld strip test, much like a pregnancy test.
For getting people with paralysis online
This company created a minimally invasive interface that uses the brain’s electrical pulses to send information to a computer, allowing people with limited mobility to type and navigate the web. The company has a breakthrough designation from the FDA and is at work on a feasibility clinical trial.

[Photo: courtesy of Tivic]

Tivic Health
For reducing sinus pain through technology
Tivic’s ClearUp handheld device reduces sinus pain, pressure, and congestion by stimulating the trigeminal nerve, which reports pain and pressure in the face to the brain. It also can reduce swelling by stimulating the sympathetic fibers of the autonomic nervous system.

For preventing pharmaceutical supply-chain fraud
Counterfeit drugs aren’t just a hazard to the pharmaceutical industry: They can kill people. TruTag makes edible micro barcodes that can be printed on drugs to prevent fake medicines from making their way into the supply chain. Pills can be scanned by a smartphone app to verify that they’re authentic.

Honorable Mentions

Canary Medical
For adding new smarts to medical devices such as prosthetic joints