A Bra for Heart Disease

There is evidence of sex differences in the cardiovascular system. Some women with heart disease don’t necessarily experience the same symptoms as men—and some don’t experience any typical signs. But because scientists have studied fewer women than men in research trials (and fewer female models in animal studies), we know less about women’s treatment and mortality. Rates of heart disease for women are on the rise.

Aceil Halaby, SM ’17, and Alicia Chong Rodriguez, SM ’18.

An MIT Graduate Women of Excellence Award recipient and a 2017–2018 MIT Legatum Fellow, Alicia Chong Rodriguez, SM ’18, is motivated to improve women’s health not only as a scientist, but as a person. She lost her grandmother, an obstetrician, to a heart attack when Chong Rodriguez was just 13 years old. Chong Rodriguez realized as a student that women were deeply underrepresented in heart-related studies—excluded from cardiovascular trials until 1993—leading to a lack of sufficient data and medical information about this disease in women.

“As artificial intelligence helps turbocharge digital health, there’s a danger that algorithms mostly trained with male data and biases will actually perpetuate the problem,” Chong Rodriguez explains.

She founded Bloomer Tech with Aceil Halaby, SM ’17, and Monica Abarca, who was only 12 years old when she lost her mother suddenly to a stroke. Named after Amelia Bloomer, the women’s rights activist who advocated against health-damaging corsets, the group has been aiming to make a better, more dependable medical and healthcare device for women—something that’s not uncomfortable, won’t break easily, and is molded directly to the body.

As a 2017 MIT delta v team, they designed a washable bra that women can wear, which uses flexible and washable circuits to continuously read metrics like their ECG, respiration, heart rate, and more. “It’s in the right place on a woman’s body—around the core and heart,” Chong Rodriguez says. “And the diversity of bras allows us to fit each woman and mold our technology around the curvature of her body. It’s not a one-size-fits-all device, and it can collect huge volumes of valuable data.”

The team developed an algorithm that integrates the collected data and sends information to the wearer’s smartphone, generating insights and digital biomarkers about the wearers’ bodies including abnormalities that might be an early sign of a heart problem. The information is available to be shared with medical professionals of their choosing. The creators at Bloomer Tech also collaborate with researchers and, in turn, help develop better health management, treatments, and early detection of heart disease in women.

Clinical testing of the bra began in 2018. Ben Linville-Engler, SDM ’18, helped the team with the regulatory strategy process, and they are already working with partners who also aim to advance women’s health. According to Chong Rodriguez, joining forces with others to impact women’s health positively and enabling easier participation in clinical trials will collectively generate breakthroughs in digital diagnostics and therapeutics to address some of the biggest healthcare challenges humanity faces today.

Currently, the Bloomer Tech team is recruiting individuals who want to join their mission to prevent deadly and often overlooked medical challenges by becoming early adopters and wearing the device, which comes in multiple sizes.