By Janice Bitters Turi
Thomas Carence from Kansas City, Missouri, set out to improve a cure for hay fever in 1901 by connecting two gauze-filled cylinders that fit inside the allergy sufferer’s nose, a solution he patented. Little did he know, he was more than 100 years ahead of his time.
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Although Carence’s solution appears to be among the earliest efforts to claim the idea of in-nose air filters, more followed. But those products, if they ever moved to an iteration beyond patent office filings, never really made it to the mainstream.
That may change as a small but growing cohort of startup founders aim to commercialize wearable and individualized products to battle against growing air pollution, allergens and, to some degree, even airborne diseases.
When those founders talk about the future, they see a not-too-distant reality where the average consumer might breathe in a solution that can help protect the lungs as part of their morning routine. In this version of the future, people not only pat their pockets for their keys and wallet, but also grab their in-nose air filters before walking out the door.
“I expect 10 years from now people will be hydrating their airways with the meticulousness and the care that they wash their hands or brush their teeth,” said David Edwards, a Harvard University professor and founder of FEND, which makes a device that mists moisture and minerals to help clean and hydrate air passages. “It’s all a matter of data; there’s no disease that is more deadly today and on the rise than respiratory disease.”
Boston-based FEND is distinct from many of the other personal air filtration products hitting the market because one doesn’t wear it; they breathe it. The water, salt and calcium in the solution aim to boost the air filtration system already in our bodies, promising to stop a portion of pollution, allergens and germs in the upper airways, keeping them from reaching the lungs or being spat back out into the world, Edwards said.
The product builds on Edwards’ work in the early 2000s, when the fear of anthrax arriving in American mailboxes was at an all-time high. The U.S. government, aware of his research on diabetes medication that could be inhaled, enlisted Edwards’ expertise to help mitigate the danger of a new threat.
Edwards found that a good portion of the bad things in the air—from pollution to allergens and even anthrax—could be caught before reaching the lungs if our air passages get a little extra TLC with moisture and minerals. But as the threat of anthrax faded into the background, so too, did his work on the project.