Siren Care's smart socks for diabetic patients could prevent amputations for individuals with chronic conditions.
When Ran Ma told her parents she was dropping out of her master's program in business administration to work on a sock prototype for diabetic patients, their reaction wasn't exactly encouraging.
"My dad said, 'We're not going to talk until you figure out your life,' " says Ma. "I don't think my parents understood what I was doing."
Ma, who had left a biotech master's program to pursue her business degree, had avoided a career in medicine despite coming from three generations of physicians. While working as an engineer at Northwestern University, she focused on a project involving a biomask that aimed to heal the burns of wounded veterans, which led her to create her own device to solve a specific medical problem. She had always been bothered that most wearable devices from Silicon Valley were predominantly fitness-related and aimed at the young and healthy, rather than the elderly and chronically ill.
In 2015, Ma launched Siren, a remote patient-monitoring company that makes connected socks to detect foot ulcers in diabetic patients. The company, which is based in San Francisco, has raised $31 million in funding from venture firms including Anathem Ventures.
Ma came up with the idea after drafting a spreadsheet of common medical problems that her parents had come across in their work as physicians. One of them was diabetic foot ulcers, which diabetic patients often develop and, if left untreated, can lead to amputation.
To spot foot complications, doctors and nurses typically rely on a common test done in a medical office. But Ma asked: What if diabetic patients could rely on a wearable that could detect the condition at home? Temperature monitoring can detect inflammation, an early warning sign for foot problems. Siren Socks work by continuously monitoring the temperature of patients' feet and sending reports to their doctor. Currently, only doctors can prescribe Siren Socks, and they are reimbursable through Medicare. Without insurance, one year of Siren patient monitoring will cost typically $19.95 a month (which amounts to $239 per year), but they are sold only through doctors by prescription; patients can't buy them directly.. Users get five pairs of socks upfront, and then another set of five socks six months later. The washable socks typically last one year.
"Medicine is notorious for adopting technology slowly," said Ma, who believes the widespread adoption of patient monitoring tools was "a long time coming."