By Simona Shemer
Israeli researchers have developed a smartphone app that could help save the lives of people with severe allergic reactions, like anaphylactic shock, and those suffering from opioid overdoses, which have led to the deaths of over 40,000 Americans in 2016 alone according to US authorities.
In Israel, researchers from Bar-Ilan University partnered with the country’s national emergency medical service Magen David Adom to develop “EPIMADA,” a smartphone app said to be the first social network for chronic patients – in this case, those suffering from allergic reactions – who can facilitate the sharing and delivery of emergency medication like EpiPens. Allergic reactions to food, medications, flora, and fauna can range from mild – coughing, sneezing, watery eyes – to severe, where sufferers can go into anaphylactic shock, a state brought on by allergen which in extreme cases can lead to death.
“Millions of severe allergy suffers are at a high risk of developing anaphylactic shock, a serious allergic reaction that causes death within minutes,” a Bar-Ilan University statement read. “A severe reaction can be treated with an EpiPen, a pen-like auto-injector syringe containing adrenaline used to deliver the life-saving medication epinephrine. Unfortunately, however, many allergy patients don’t take their medication with them at all times.”
The app was created by researchers Prof. David G. Schwartz and doctoral students Michael Khalemsky and Michal Gaziel Yablowitz from the School of Business Administration at Bar-Ilan University, using guidelines developed in Schwartz’s Social Intelligence Lab, a research center focused on the social uses of information and communication technologies. The three worked together with a Magen David Adom (MDA) team led by Dr. Eli Jaffe.
The location-based app currently has hundreds of users who may be close enough to each other to arrive significantly faster than an ambulance, according to the researchers. With proximity-based algorithms, MDA uses the app to dispatch a registered allergy patient to help another patient in immediate need of an EpiPen, the statement said.
Yablowitz refered to an incident this week where an Israeli teenager went into anaphylactic shock after eating a bourekas, a puffed pastry popular in the Middle East and the Balkans. Avishag Simcha Moyal, 13, from Ashdod suffered the allergic reaction after consuming a potato bourekas that initiated an attack because it was in close proximity to a tray of cheese bourekas. Moyal is allergic to dairy, and had forgotten her EpiPen at home. By the time her mother had rushed over to deliver it, she had lost consciousness.
“If she had used our app, really at the beginning, maybe they would have found someone who was closer and she would have been saved right away,” Yablowitz explains.
About 25 to 40 percent of Israel’s population suffers from the most common allergic illnesses in Israel, including allergic rhinitis, asthma, atopic dermatitis, or allergic sensitivity to foods, drugs, and insect venom, the Israel Ministry of Health reports. The Israeli Food Allergy Association reports that there are 40,000 people suffering from life-threatening allergies, 7,000 of which are children.
In Israel, there are also approximately 20,000 people with epinephrine auto-injector prescriptions and this number is on the rise, according to the researchers.
“EPIMADA is a downloadable and carefully monitored mobile community that opens the door to research into the behavior and benefits of emergency response communities,” says Yablowitz.
The app is only available in Israel. Allergy patients with epinephrine prescriptions can apply to join the community by contacting MADA at Tel: *6210 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The project was first unveiled in January at the Israeli Association of Food Allergies conference which took place at Bar-Ilan University’s School of Business Administration.
An international social network for patients
The “EPIMADA” app is the first field test of the international Emergency Response Communities (ERC) initiative. Yablowitz says the studies of patient-based emergency response anaphylaxis is ongoing at Charité Hospital – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, where the group is working with Professor Margaritta Worm of the Clinic for Dermatology, Allergology, and Venerology.
There is also an ongoing study for opioid overdose reversal by sharing naloxone at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
The opiod crisis in the US has garnered international attention for its startling statistics. According to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
“It’s the same concept of connecting chronic patients through a social network,” Yablowitz says, “Opioid addiction is very common in the states right now and many of the users do not carry medication with them. So we’re hoping some can deliver medication to other addicts.” She noted that the researchers received a grant from the National Institute of Health for their work.
Studies presenting the innovative ERC concept have been published in the prestigious scientific journals ACM Computing Surveys and Decision Support Systems.