Health Makers: A Device to Engage Kids in Asthma Management

Name Charvi Shetty

Age 29

Title and Company CEO and cofounder of Aluna

Charvi Shetty is the CEO of Aluna, a San Francisco startup that has developed a device and app to help people, especially kids, monitor lung function for chronic conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

You test lung function by blowing into the portable spirometer. The tool, called Aluna, measures forced expired volume (FEV1), or how much air you can exhale in a single second.

The device was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to monitor general lung functioning for kids (ages 5 and older) and adults, and made available to the public on April 28, 2020, for $199. The spirometer syncs up with an iPhone game (accessible on the Aluna app) where a rocket ship blasts off every time you measure your FEV1 score. The app then displays your score (as a percentage of lung capacity), which you can compare with people of similar age, body weight, ethnicity, and other relevant traits.

RELATED: Asthma Tech to Watch in 2020

The “Char” half of Shetty’s name comes from her mother, Charito, who’s from the Philippines. The “Vi” part was taken from her father, Pravin, who’s from India, where Shetty grew up.

And Aluna? That comes from the latin root for moon, “luna.” “The moon allowed people in ancient times to be able to light the path in front of them,” she says. “We wanted to bring clarity into people’s health and uncover things they weren’t able to see before.”

From Science Project to Startup

As an undergraduate, Shetty attended the University of California in Berkeley, and studied bioengineering. For a senior year design project, she was tasked with finding an easier way to predict and monitor respiratory attacks.

She settled on asthma, which her brother and mother suffer from, as did a college roommate. Shetty also learned during that time that she had adult onset asthma, though she had few symptoms. Her roommate’s condition, however, was so bad that her parents wouldn’t let her get out of the home as a child because they were afraid she was going to suffer an attack, Shetty says. “She remembered ER visits instead of trips to Disneyland.”

RELATED: What Type of Asthma Do I Have?

Shetty was motivated to work on solutions for chronic disease management, she says. “I was interested in conditions that can’t be cured — that you have to live with but control. I didn’t want health to be something that people worry about.”

Shetty and her colleagues decided to focus on kids with asthma. “They have a harder time communicating how they’re feeling, and they end up in ER the most.”

About 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma, and Immunology. And estimates suggest that more than 10 million U.S. children are living with asthma according to a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

RELATED: What to Do If You’re Having an Asthma Attack

To Keep Kids (and Adults) Engaged, Keep It Interesting

Shetty and her team designed a portable device — the size of a smartphone — that can fit into a backpack. The game was initially designed for kids, but it also appeals to adults, Shetty notes. “It motivates them to keep using the app every day.”

After testing an early version of the mobile app with families of some asthmatic children, Shetty added a video game to encourage young patients to use the device effectively while keeping them engaged. The portable spirometer can connect to an iPhone via Bluetooth. When you blow into the device, a rocket ship blasts off into space.

Though it was designed as a game for kids with asthma, the tracking feature can be helpful for people with other respiratory conditions and for adults, too, she says. “The exact same technology can be applied to adults [with asthma] or people with COPD or cystic fibrosis.”

The results are displayed as a percentage; a score of 100 means that your lungs are working optimally — at the same capacity as someone of the same, age, height, gender and ethnicity with healthy lungs. A lower score indicates lung capacity may be obstructed. A score between 80 and 100 is the “green” zone, which indicates you’re okay. The “yellow” zone, between 60 and 80, means you need medication (such as your emergency inhaler; follow your asthma action plan as determined by your doctor or health care provider). The “red” zone, a score below 60, means your lung capacity is severely limited and you need emergency medical care immediately.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Asthma Treatment and How to Use an Inhaler

Physicians have also been reaching out directly to Shetty. “We're being overwhelmed by many calls from medical directors throughout the country to get [the device] in the hands of patients in need, primarily cystic fibrosis, asthmatics, and COPD patients,” she says.

And now more than ever, chronic disease management for people with respiratory disease and other conditions is so important, she says. “We really have to keep high-risk patients out of the hospital for avoidable visits, with the need being much higher now than ever before.”

RELATED: Your Everyday Guide to Living Well With Asthma

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