Alphabet acquires Senosis, a stealthy health app from serial entrepreneur Shwetak Patel

By Jonah Comstock
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Alphabet (the Google parent company formerly known as Google) has acquired a small, Seattle-based startup called Senosis Health, according to Geekwire, which broke the story on Sunday.

Senosis, which had only recently come out of stealth mode, may not be a company many have heard of, but its founder Shwetak Patel, a professor at the University of Washington and a visiting researcher at Microsoft, is better known. Patel received a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2011 and has previously sold his startup Zensi to Belkin and the core technology of another startup, SNUPI, to Sears.

According to Senosi's now-inactive website, the company has created three health apps which use the smartphone's built in sensors to monitor different health biomarkers. The company doesn't currently have any FDA clearances, but it told Geekwire in the past that it was seeking them.

One app, BiliCam, uses the smartphone's camera to screen for newborn jaundice. 

"Instead of looking for 'yellowness' in the skin, the camera and flash together measure the amount of bilirubin in the blood by examining wavelengths of light absorbed by the skin," the website explains. "In the US, this app enables parents and providers to screen before involving a specialist and minimizes painful or frequent blood tests. In many parts of the world, midwives and traveling nurses more commonly deliver babies and currently have no screening tool for jaundice; this app will provide them with one."

Another, SpiroSmart, turns the smartphone's microphone into a spirometer, an endeavor that seems similar in concept to Australian company ResApp

"SpiroSmart measures lung function by having the patient blow into a phone's microphone, replacing an expensive dedicated spirometer for diagnosing and managing asthma, cystic fibrosis and other pulmonary diseases," the site explains. "SpiroCall is a related project that is particularly useful in low-resource settings where smartphone access is limited. It turns any phone into a spirometer through a toll-free calling service."

The third and final offering, HemaApp, uses the smartphone camera to measure hemoglobin in the bloodstream.

"Many health conditions - such as anemia, malnutrition and pulmonary illnesses - impact hemoglobin levels," the company writes. "This app is not only a disease screening tool but it can also help medical professionals assess the nutritional well-being of individuals and communities. Current monitoring requires blood samples or expensive equipment. By eliminating the need for blood draws, HemaApp delivers immediate results and alleviates concerns about sample contamination or infection."

According to Geekwire, Senosis is not being incorporated into Verily, Alphabet's life sciences wing. There are a lot of potential homes for the company at Google beyond Verily, though. DeepMind is an Alphabet subsidiary developing health apps in the UK, while Calico is focused on extending lifespans. If Senosis's apps end up being built directly into Google products, the company could become part of Android. Finally, it could form its own local subsidiary like DeepMind did after its acquisition.

A previous Google acquisition, Lift Labs, was incorporated into Verily, but Verily has changed a lot since then and its mission has cemented into a focus on enterprise partnerships.

MobiHealthNews has reached out to both Senosis and Alphabet for comment and will update this story if we hear back.