App Helps Asthmatics Avoid Attacks

L to R: Prof Carol Armour (Woolcock Research Institute), Michele Goldman (Asthma Foundation NSW) and Grace Davey (BCG Digital Ventures)

Asthmatics could soon have an app at their fingertips to predict and prevent their next attack thanks to smartphone technology under development at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research.

A team of respiratory specialists at the Sydney-based research powerhouse are investigating revolutionary new software that could help the 2.3 million Australians with asthma monitor their condition as they never have before.

The project, a partnership between the Woolcock, BCG Digital Ventures and Asthma Foundation NSW, has been made possible by a $250,000 Google grant awarded this month. 

Professor Carol Armour, executive director of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, said the grant presented an exciting opportunity to explore and develop innovative technologies that monitor health and pollution using personal devices like smart phones.

The app in development would give users quick and easy access to real-time air quality data from pollen, bush fire smoke, air pollution and other sources known to be troublesome for people with asthma, Professor Armour explains.

"Imagine being able to swiftly tap into your environment and assess the risk to your health with up-to-the-minute air quality ratings," she said. "This is just the sort of valuable information that so many Australian asthmatics would appreciate having on hand."

Importantly, the product could be used by asthmatics to take necessary steps to limit  their exposure to harmful pollutants, ultimately reducing their risk of an asthma flare-up.

"It's exciting to be involved in a technology project that has the potential to genuinely improve the lives of so many people with asthma, a goal that we at the Woolcock have long focused on through world-class research, clinical management and education," Professor Armour said. 

Glance at the asthma statistics and the need for such a tool is clear.

One in 10 people with asthma struggle to manage their condition when air quality is poor.

Each year almost 39,000 Australians are hospitalised due to their asthma. A further 390 die annually as a result of the condition.

"New technology that is available wherever you go could offer some much-needed peace of mind in asthma management," Professor Armour says.

The app could be publicly available in three years, with a working prototype on hand by early 2016.

The project was a finalist in the Google Impact Challenge, a program that supports non-profit organisations using technology to tackle problems and transform lives.

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