Young Scholar Rajalakshmi Nandakumar: An App to Fight Opioid Overdoses

Listen to the entire episode on Science Friday.

Segment Guest: Rajalakshmi Nandakumar – Rajalakshmi Nandakumar is a PhD candidate in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.

If a person fails to interact with the app, it will contact someone who can administer naloxone.
Credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington

Last year, about 47,000 people in the United States died from an opioid overdose, including prescription and synthetic drugs like fentanyl, according to the CDC.

And as the epidemic of opioid abuse continues, those looking to reduce death rates are searching for ways to keep drug users safer.

But what if your smartphone could monitor your breathing, detect early signs of an overdose, and call for help in time to save your life? Researchers writing in Science Translational Medicine this week think they have just that: smartphone software that can ‘hear’ the depressed breathing rates, apnea, and changes in body movement that might indicate a potential overdose.

University of Washington PhD candidate Rajalakshmi Nandakumar explains how the software, which uses smartphone speakers and microphones to mimic a bat’s sonar, can ‘hear’ the rise and fall of someone’s chest—and could someday even coordinate with emergency services to send help.