African company constructs world’s first open-source metabolic chamber

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HealthQ Technologies, a high-tech startup facility based in Stellenbosch, South Africa, claims to have constructed the first open-source metabolic chamber in the world.

The company says that the metabolic chamber will enable South African entrepreneurs and researchers to perform crucial experiments using facilities which were previously inaccessible. It is also intended to be used for developing new technologies and products in the wellness, weight-loss and fitness industries.

WooThemes co-founder Adii Pienaar is one of the investors in HealthQ. “I was first attracted to HealthQ, because their incredibly talented & smart team; a true bunch of geeks! I initially invested in HealthQ in November 2011 and subsequently worked with the team on the initial software prototypes. Seeing the metabolic chamber come to life has been a major milestone for the team and I’m excited about what’s next for HealthQ,” says Pienaar.

HealthQ is headed up by CEO and co-founder Riaan Conradie, a PhD graduate from the University of Stellenbosch. We learned from Conradie’s Twitter account that the metabolic chamber is Arduino-based. Arduino is an open-source electronics platform which consists of circuit boards and the software used to program them. As the platform is aimed at making electronics more accessible, Arduino boards can be purchased pre-assembled or built by hand.

The picture below was posted in September on Conradie’s Instagram account with the caption “Busy testing the sidestream of the world’s first open source metabolic chamber @ HealthQ Technologies HQ.”

In the book Nutrition and Obesity: Assessment, Management & Prevention a metabolic chamber is defined as “a room with highly controlled conditions where metabolic testing takes place while the subject eats, sleeps and performs various physical activities.” The goal is usually to determine energy expenditure such as the “Basal metabolic rate” (BMR), which is defined as the rate at which the body uses energy while at rest to keep vital functions going.

Pictured below is HealthQ’s unfinished metabolic chamber posted in July on Conradie’s Instagram account.

Metabolic chambers are said to be the most accurate methods of determining energy expenditure. Expenditure can be measured in two ways. In what is called “direct calorimetry”, scientists measure the heat emitted from a person’s body. In “indirect calorimetry”, oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide production and nitrogen excretion are measured.

Using these measurements, researchers can determine if a person has a slow or fast metabolic rate. A slow metabolic rate indicates that a person gains weight more easily as their body burns calories slower than the optimal rate. Inversely, a fast metabolic rate would make it harder for a person to gain weight.

We hope to learn more about the chamber later this year, as the Premier of South Africa’s Western Cape, Helen Zille, is scheduled to deliver a keynote at the opening of the facility on 4 December.

Update

Conradie alerted Ventureburn to new pictures of a very complete-looking metabolic chamber including its metabolic control panel.

Note the shape of the control panel circuit board below. It’s in the shape of the African continent. The caption of the picture reads: “The metabolic chamber control panel consists of several valves, analysers, pumps and many other things to get everything to function properly. All processing happens on Arduino and RaspberryPi. We made our PCB (printed circuit board) in the shape of the African continent. #proudlysouthafrican!!”

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