You can learn a lot by analyzing a person’s bodily excretions, from their income and diet to — more importantly — their health. Now a fledgling Israeli startup wants to help prevent life-threatening diseases by passively monitoring human waste, circumventing the need to collect physical samples.
OutSense aims to use computer vision to “transform human waste into lifesaving medical insights” through a simple IoT attachment that clips to the side of a standard toilet bowl. Today, the company announced it has raised $2.2 million from Peregrine Ventures, an early stage VC firm focused on life sciences. The series A round will allow OutSense to bring the technology closer to market and further develop what it calls the world’s “first and largest database of human waste.”
The OutSense device has a multi-spectral optical sensor, an illumination module, and an autonomous controller with a Wi-Fi receiver.
This ensures captured data is automatically transferred to the cloud, where OutSense carries out real-time analysis and delivers insights to a device belonging to the end user or directly to the health care provider. If OutSense’s system detects any abnormality, it issues notifications to trigger further analysis and treatment.
It’s clear OutSense’s technology isn’t designed for mass-market health monitoring the way fitness trackers or connected scales are — it’s targeted at people who have existing conditions or are in demographics that may be more prone to specific diseases, such as the elderly. OutSense’s initial clinical focus is on screening for hidden blood in the stool, which can be an early indicator of colorectal cancer (CRC). OutSense is claiming to be the first company to demonstrate that blood in the stool can be effectively monitored in a standard toilet bowl, rather than by sending samples to a lab.
OutSense said its technology can also monitor for dehydration, urinary tract infections, constipation, and diarrhea, each of which can cause deterioration and eventual hospitalization in elderly people. OutSense CEO Yfat Scialom says the technology’s ability to detect hidden blood in the stool has already been validated via a study carried out at Israel’s Meir Medical Center, which found it had 90% accuracy. Dehydration detection has also passed an initial feasibility test with “high accuracy,” while other use cases are currently in the development phase.
The insights end users can expect to glean from monitoring their excretions will vary by use case. For colorectal cancer screening, users will simply be informed whether there is hidden blood in their stool. For general monitoring of elderly patients, the data will primarily be shared with caregivers and health care providers, who can interpret it and take appropriate action.
OutSense’s analysis is based on the optical data gathered using its clip-on contraption, which provides insights across “three dimensions” — time, space, and spectrum. This means OutSense can monitor how many times a day a person visits the toilet, for what purpose, and for how long. OutSense also monitors each excretion for amount, volume, and size, as well as other “spatial” parameters, such texture and opacity.
Then there is the spectral domain. “We can see molecular composition and substances in urine and stool in a sensitive way that the human eye has no perception for by using spectroscopic signatures of molecules,” Scialom told VentureBeat.
OutSense was founded in 2016 and emerged from Israel’s Incentive Incubator, which is owned and operated by Peregrine Ventures, in conjunction with the governmental body Israel Innovation Authority.
The company has had to build its database from scratch through clinical trials in its labs and collaborations with local hospitals, a process that is ongoing through its various pilot programs. This has been essential to developing its proprietary computer vision and AI backbone, which is capable of recognizing telltale signs of medical conditions.
“To the best of our knowledge, such data does not exist elsewhere,” Scialom said.
This all dovetails neatly with the recent demand for telehealth technology, driven in large part by the COVID-19 crisis. Tyto Care, a New York-headquartered startup with Israeli roots, recently closed a $50 million funding round for an at-home medical kit that allows health care providers to examine patients’ lungs, heart, throat, ears, skin, abdomen, and body temperature from afar. OutSense’s technology is different, but its ultimate goal is the same: enabling medical professionals to monitor people’s health without in-person visits.
OutSense is preparing to kickstart large-scale testing in hospitals domestically and abroad, including a penciled-in pilot with a “multi-billion dollar Japanese corporation” to detect dehydration and urinary tract infections in the elderly. With another $2.2 million in the bank, the company will also finalize the design of its clip-on toilet sensor. In 2021, it’s planning to start the approval process with a number of regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Scialom said OutSense is open to expanding to other use cases, including detecting viruses similar to COVID-19 or managing nutrition and weight control. When the company does expand into general health monitoring, it expects end users to receive more direct insights. Its offering could even fit into the broader “quantified self” movement through which people measure various facets of their life, including sleep, exercise, and diet.
“Once we move forward to wellness use cases, this is where the actual user has much to gain from the data being provided directly to him or her in various potential ways,” Scialom said. “For instance, the user can better control weight by understanding the effect of different foods on their guts and microbiome. The user can also gain insights about probiotics and other nutritional supplements’ effects and thus assist them in selecting the best type and dosages.”