The Era of Aircare and the Exposome
Sequencing the exposome has potential to augment the genome in disease prevention and treatment.
'Public health awareness on indoor air pollution has lagged behind that on outdoor air pollution’ says the World Health Organisation.
Ultra-fine particles, particulate matter, fine dust particles, and volatile organic compounds can cause a number of conditions that range from minor discomforts such as allergies, nausea, tiredness to major issues such as pulmonary conditions. What was once a traditional consumer category, centered on fresheners, purifiers, deodorizers, scented products, is now harnessing advances in biotechnology and data science. For instance, startups are using new research in far-ultraviolet light (far-UVC) to sterilize air and objects (1), building on B2B companies like Blue Ocean Robotics (using UVC), which just closed a $12m round in December 2019. Moreover, car parts suppliers like ATS ELGI are incorporating ozone sterilizers in their production line. More far-fetched startups are looking at personalized scents to trigger memories, emotions, and boost mental health. These advancements signal that we’ll soon have the tools to understand and control the air around us, and how it will impact our health and wellbeing.
Additionally, advances in neuromorphic chips could soon bring another layer of ‘sensing’ to IoT and wearable technologies. Neuromorphic technology seeks to ‘mimic the neurocircuitry of our noses to smell’ (2). By using neural algorithms similar to the brain’s, neuromorphic chips are able to decipher accurately and quickly between a wide breadth of chemicals. According to Intel’s Neuromorphic Computing Lab and MIT, future applications will be broad, from detecting explosives, noxious chemicals in the air, and even diseases. Neuromorphic computing applications could even make their way into residential and commercial developments in order to deeply advance the safety and quality of dense urban environments. Our analysis shows that we are still 3 to 5 years away from consumer applications, but deep-tech startups to watch include Prophesee (focused on vision, not scent), and Rain Neuromorphic, which raised a seed round in late 2019 with Airbus Ventures.
(1) Welch, D., Buonanno, M., Grilj, V. et al. Far-UVC light: A new tool to control the spread of airborne-mediated microbial diseases. Sci Rep 8, 2752 (2018)
(2) Hao, Karen. A new computer chip mimics the neurocircuitry of our noses to smell. MIT Technology Review. March 2020