An MIT startup reimagines the bra as a heart monitor -- and aims to fill the data gap for women's heart disease
by Karen Weintraub
As a female engineering student, Alicia Chong Rodriguez, SM ’18, was used to being one of the few women in any room full of engineers. But three years ago, she was shocked to learn that women are also woefully underrepresented in research on heart disease—even though it’s the leading cause of death in women worldwide.
As she would later find out, a significant percentage of women with heart disease don’t experience the “classic” symptom of chest pain—and some don’t exhibit any symptoms at all. Many women (and many of their doctors) don’t know that pain in the jaw, upper abdomen, or back can also be signs. As a result, women’s symptoms are often missed or ignored. Making matters worse, women make up only about a third of participants in research trials for heart drugs. Even in animal studies, the mice are virtually all male.
Upon learning about this research gap, at Singularity University’s Global Solutions Program in 2015, Chong Rodriguez and a few peers decided to come up with a way to close it.
They found that the electrocardiogram devices frequently used to track heart abnormalities are awkward and provide only scattered or intermittent data. What if they could continuously track a woman’s heart function—and provide an early alert if troubles developed?
Chong Rodriguez and Singularity classmate Monica Abarca came up with the idea of using a bra as a tracking device, and they founded a company to bring the idea to market. They named their startup after Amelia Bloomer, a women’s rights activist in the mid-1800s who crusaded against restrictive corsets and encouraged women to wear loose-fitting pants, which became known as bloomers.
Now, three years after the concept was hatched, the Bloomer bra is about to begin clinical testing. And Chong Rodriguez, Abarca, and their third partner, Aceil Halaby, SM ’17, hope to begin selling their first product, a black bra with a bright teal lining, later this year.
“We’re connecting the dots to a big problem,” Chong Rodriguez says. And Bloomer Tech sees combining fashion, health, and technology as the best way to solve it.