By Kris B. Mamula
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nexaware Post-GazetteGaining weight is bad enough, but tracking the pounds can be nearly impossible if mobility issues keep you from getting to the scale.

Researchers at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories in the East End say they have the answer: an electronic hockey puck-size sensor that fits under each leg of a patient’s bed. Now, a Richmond, Va.-based startup is preparing to market the device.

The sensor was developed in the lab of Jonathan Pearlman, the research facility’s associate director of product innovation and translation. Measuring weights is just the start.

Through surveys and talking with health care providers, researchers found there was a need to monitor a person’s activity level as well. That’s key information in determining whether a bedfast nursing home patient, for example, is being moved regularly to prevent the formation of pressure ulcers or how often someone gets out of bed at night to go to the bathroom.

Congestive heart failure, a leading cause of hospital admissions, is among the health problems that can be monitored by tracking weight gain.

“We’ve learned a lot,” Mr. Pearlman said. “There’s a monitoring need beyond the weight-loss goal.”

The Human Engineering Research Laboratories is a collaboration of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, University of Pittsburgh and UPMC, which moved in 2011 to Bakery Square from the VA on Highland Drive. The new digs marked a renewed emphasis on the commercialization of faculty research, an effort that has been picking up steam under Pitt chancellor Patrick Gallagher.

For most people trying to control their weight, access to a scale and daily monitoring provides ready feedback.

But people with mobility problems can’t easily get on a scale, putting a simple weight-loss tool out of their reach, dietitians say.

“Getting nursing home patients to stand on a scale is tough,” Mr. Pearlman said. Work on a wireless version of the sensor is underway, which will have smartphone monitoring capability.

The target market is people with mobility issues caused by spinal cord injuries and other medical problems. Home monitoring applications is another potential market.

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