Device that performs hundreds of tests with a single drop of blood wins Nokia Sensing Xchallenge

The DNA Medicine Institute (DMI), developer of a diagnostic device that can perform hundreds of clinical lab tests with a single drop of blood, won the Nokia Sensing Xchallenge for promising medical sensing technologies. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, National Institutes of Health and NASA-backed company takes home $525,000 to further develop applications of its technology in space medicine, medical research and consumer diagnostics.

DMI says its diagnostic can tell a user whether they have Ebola within minutes, demonstrating its potential in the public health arena. But it was designed with a less earthbound application in mind. "We originally started developing the technology because we wanted to take an entire hospital laboratory and kind of shrink it so that it could be flown for space travel to Mars with NASA. That really kind of blossomed into a piece of technology that is applicable to a wide variety of diseases," DMI CEO Dr. Eugene Chan said in an interview.

The rHealth system--Courtesy of the DNA Medicine Institute

The device, dubbed the rHealth (or Reusable Handheld Electrolyte and Lab Technology for Humans) system, can perform hematology tests such as counts of white blood cell subtypes, detect blood disorders like idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, and find alterations to the immune system as a result of cancer or space radiation, among other applications, Chan said.

The rHealth system utilizes nanotechnology to perform the work of an entire laboratory in one device using a drop of blood, he said. "If you're familiar with pH test strips or Urinalysis test strips, we've taken that whole concept and basically shrunk it down so that it's about the size of several blood cells. So now you can have thousands of nanostrips in a single drop of blood, and that's how we are able to perform as many tests as we can in that single drop of blood."

If adopted on a large scale, the technology would be a big improvement over standard centralized laboratory testing. "We've basically decreased the blood volume that you need by over 1000-fold. All you need is a tiny drop of it, and you don't need the big central laboratory. You can have one of these devices in your home, or throw it in your bag when you're traveling with your family, so that you can take care of your family on trips and things like that," Chan said.

The Cambridge, MA, company has begun shipping the rHealth system to local companies and universities in the translational research market, where only institutional review board approval is required. DMI is also discussing a future application with the FDA to enter the consumer diagnostics arena. "The tests we're doing require 510(k) approval. You have to demonstrate substantially equivalent performance with existing gold standard analyzers, and that's pretty much what we've been doing," Chan said, adding that the company has already run some of its tests on humans and needs to expand the trials in order to obtain FDA clearance.

Chan said the prize money will help the company prepare for the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize competition of consumer-focused mobile diagnostic devices.

Five other companies received prizes of $120,000.

"The innovative technologies created by the teams demonstrate the potential for sensors to transform healthcare in [a] myriad of areas, from early diagnosis all the way to disease management," said Nokia Executive Vice President Henry Tirri in a statement. "We're thrilled to have had the opportunity to help bring these important advancements to fruition."

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