No “Bones” about it.
Science fiction is becoming reality in 21st century medicine.
A working tricorder — the favorite (if fictional) portable diagnostic tool used on “Star Trek” by Dr. Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy — was recently unveiled at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo.
Designed by Final Frontier Medical Devices, the tablet-style DxtER device was unveiled as the winner of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE.
The contest awarded $10 million in prize money to developers of innovative handheld medical tools that consumers can use to monitor their own health.
The competition was launched in 2012.
How the winning device works
At the AACC meeting on July 31, Final Frontier Medical Devices was awarded the $2.6 million first prize for developing DxtER.
The device uses noninvasive sensors to collect information on vital signs, body chemistry, and biological function.
“DxtER is the first consumer-friendly mobile health device to combine vital sign monitoring with an extensive diagnostic testing menu, and it could lead to a huge leap forward in patient care,” said AACC Chief Executive, Janet B. Kreizman, in a press statement.
The device uses artificial intelligence, based in part on knowledge from clinical emergency medicine, to analyze data gathered via patient questionnaires and sensors to provide a quick assessment of the subject’s health.
Basil Leaf Technologies, a healthcare technology firm founded in 2013 by brothers Dr. Basil Harris and George Harris, a network engineer, developed the device over a four-year period.
“It’s interesting that things that were science fiction 20 or 30 years ago have come to fruition,” Phil Charron, Basil Leaf’s head of experience design, told Healthline. “We’re not at the point now where you can wave a wand over someone’s body and get a diagnosis, but we can do a lot that we could not do in the ‘80s or ‘90s.”
Charron described DxtER as a “home appliance” that individuals can use to monitor and assess their health on an ongoing basis and when they are feeling ill.
If problems are detected, users can transmit the data to their doctor for follow-up treatment.
“The idea is not to eliminate the need for physicians, but to streamline their processes,” he said.
The company said that built into DxtER are algorithms for diagnosing 34 health conditions, including diabetes, atrial fibrillation, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, urinary tract infection, sleep apnea, leukocytosis, pertussis, stroke, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.
Thirteen of these diagnostic tools were incorporated into the device, which measures such core vital signs as pulse, EKG, body temperature, respiratory rate, and blood pressure.
In the process of developing DxtER, Basil Leaf scientists also designed a sensor for lung sounds and a proprietary blood sensor that measures glucose levels, white blood cell count, and hemoglobin “without taking a drop of blood,” said Charron.
The contest’s runner-up, Dynamical Biomarkers Group of Taiwan, won $1 million for developing a trio of assessment tools that measure vital signs, blood and urine samples, inner-ear infections, and melanoma, with data accessible to users via a smartphone application.
“It is very exciting that our vision of mobile, personalized patient-centric healthcare is getting closer to becoming a reality thanks to the great work of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE teams,” said Paul E. Jacobs, PhD, executive director of mobile technology firm Qualcomm, in a press statement.
Getting the devices to market
Jacobs called the winning devices “a great stepping stone to making mobile healthcare a viable option across the world.”
Both Final Frontier and Dynamical Biomarkers Group will continue to receive support from Qualcomm, XPRIZE, and a group of strategic partners (including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) to conduct testing with an eye on bringing their devices to market.
Charron said that a working tricorder is probably a decade in the future, but that Basil Leaf would like bring some of the technology underlying DxtER to consumers sooner than that.
“Creating a device that any adult patient can use is completely possible,” said Charron. “We know the technology will evolve to the point where patients will feel comfortable using it, but we need to get to the point where the medical community and patients completely trust the device.”
Also contributing to the XPRIZE initiative is the Roddenberry Foundation, founded in honor of the late “Star Trek” creator, Gene Roddenberry. That organization will contribute $1.6 million toward adapting the winning devices for use in hospitals and communities in the developing world.
That’s a particular thrill for the Basil Leaf team.
“We all grew up together and spent our teenage years in the Harris family’s basement watching ‘Star Trek,’” noted Charron. “We were all pretty much geeks in our heyday.”