We have a winner: The grand prize for creating the medical diagnostic gadget of the future goes to team DMI, from Cambridge, Massachusetts. DMI beat out the other finalists for the US $525,000 award with a trio of instruments designed for medical researchers, health care providers, and consumers.
The Nokia Sensing XChallenge asked inventors to come up with portable gadgets that anybody could use to collect accurate, real-time health information. It’s related to another contest, the Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize, which the DMI team is competing in as well. Team leader Eugene Chan says the sensing challenge allowed him to develop his core technology; he’s now adapting his consumer device to meet the requirements of the tricorder contest. To be a winner there, Chan’s device will have to diagnose 15 specific ailments and also get high marks on consumer experience.
Chan’s devices require just a drop of blood. The inventor says he has validated 22 lab tests so far, “but the technology is potentially capable of testing for hundreds of lab values.” The three devices all make use of nanotechnology and optics. Chan’s company fashioned what he calls nanostrips out of a proprietary transparent material; these nanostrips can be loaded with various proteins that attach to the specific substance to be measured, such as vitamin D, calcium, red blood cells, or white blood cells, to name a few of the analytes. The nanostrips are mixed in with the blood, which is flowed past a laser for a quantitative read-out.
Chan says the consumer device, the X1, allows people to diagnose themselves, wherever they may be. It also comes with a biometric patch that can be slapped on to measure heart rate, respiration rate, and other vital signs. The X1 is designed to send its data to the user’s smartphone, and it also stores it in the cloud, so the information can be shared with the user’s doctors. But first it will have to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Chan also mentions a specific set of potential users: astronauts. DMI has received funding from NASA to develop a diagnostic device that astronauts could use during space travel to monitor their health, when mission control is far away. If Chan’s team does turn its X1 device into a working Tricorder, it would be very fitting to see it used by astronauts “hurtling toward Mars,” as Chan puts it.
The video below gives more info about DMI’s winning entry.
Eliza Strickland is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum, where she covers AI, biomedical engineering, and other topics. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.