A longtime pediatric anesthesiologist at Children’s National Hospital, Dr. Julia Finkel has long wanted a more objective way to measure how much pain patients are feeling.
“For pain, we do it very empirically,” Dr. Finkel said. “The patient says they hurt, we give them a drug. They either feel better or they don’t…It’s done in a very empirical way without a physiologic measure, and there are consequences for that.”
That disconnect led Dr. Finkel and her company AlgometRx to create an eye-tracking device to more accurately measure pain. Located in the Children’s National Innovation and Research campus on the former Walter Reed Medical Center property in Northwest D.C., the three-person company just began raising a $5 million funding round to help establish a commercial platform.
The device, which is currently seeking FDA approval, uses a non-painful stimulus that evokes a pupil dilation. An algorithm queries each of the three sensory nerve fiber types during the reaction to measure pain. Doctors can then use the findings to develop a treatment plan, and ongoing measurements from the device can help determine how well it works. Dr. Finkel said the device, which is handheld and can be hooked up to a smartphone, offers a more accurate approach to measuring pain for establishing treatment plans and monitoring progress.
“Pain is just one word that represents a whole myriad of different conditions,” Dr. Finkel said. “…So being able to discern either the type of pain or the reason for the pain allows us to be much more mechanistic, specific and personalized in its treatment.”
Current ways for children to measure pain, like using a 1-10 scale or pointing at different happy faces, can cloud treatment, Dr. Finkel said. That’s because pain has so many different meanings, and it is subjective to the patient. There are also a number of different types, like pain following a broken leg, that are meant to prevent further injury. Compare that to to chronic pain, in which it’s difficult to find a cause. Outside factors such as an emotional response can also have an influence on how much pain a person is feeling, which can hinder treatment plans if a patient thinks they’re feeling more or less pain that their body is actually experiencing.
“We’re not denying anyone’s experience of pain. We’re defining the various elements that come to bear on that person’s perception,” Dr. Finkel said. “There’s more to someone’s pain experience than what just travels along the pain nerve. There’s an emotional response that colors the patient’s perspective.”
At present, Dr. Finkel and AlgometRx are looking for an FDA clearance for neuropathic-type pain. Following a $2.5 million seed round in 2017, Dr. Finkel hopes to add 3-4 people to the team with the new funding. The company is also looking for a more permanent CEO versed in medtech. Eventually, Dr. Finkel anticipates the company getting acquired, as well, given what she says are countless uses and applications for the device.
“Because of the many different facets to pain, finally having an objective measure has really vast implications,” Dr. Finkel said.