For Eugene Chan, the leader of team DMI, the journey toward rapid, portable point-of-care diagnostics began even before the announcement of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE.
For Eugene Chan, the leader of team DMI, the journey toward rapid, portable point-of-care diagnostics began even before the announcement of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE. Chan was inspired during his days as an internal medicine specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, when he realized that he was seeing patients without having access to the laboratory information he needed. “I wished I had the capability to simply whip something out of my pocket and diagnose the patient on the spot,” he says. And now, with their rHEALTH X1 tricorder prototype, DMI is hoping to do just that.
The team’s main goal is to give patients the power traditionally held by their healthcare providers. They want consumers to be able to access better diagnostic information, and they want to see that information at patients’ fingertips – in some cases, literally. To diagnose a patient’s condition, the rHEALTH X1 takes a drop of blood and applies it to nano-scale test strips that can determine the contents of the sample. The device is fitted with internal lasers that read the nano-strips, allowing the associated software to determine exactly what’s in that drop of blood and return one of hundreds of possible diagnoses from a single test.
So far, the tricorder has been tested in over 22 different categories, including not just vital signs, but hematology, bowel markers, blood chemistry, and even small molecules – all of which have been tested both internally and externally, including validation against FDA gold standards. It’s that level of detail that Chan thinks has put his team in the running for the ultimate prize. “Our team is fantastic in terms of being able to put technologies together,” he says, “but at the core of our technology is a vision for the future. All of the current technologies for point-of-care diagnosis are focused on performing one test and yielding one result, so we turned that on its head and focused on providing as many tests as we possibly can from a single drop of blood.”
For DMI, the advice provided by the FDA has been invaluable. They’ve provided the team with insight into multifunctional devices. “The paradigm for getting blood tests approved is one at a time,” Chan explains, “and if you want to get all the tests approved on a timely basis it would require a much more expedited stream. So the advice from the FDA in that respect has been fantastic.” And the FDA aren’t the only people in DMI’s corner – the team has funding from NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the Gates Foundation. “Our organization tends to innovate a lot and create really exceptional technologies, and the rHEALTH X1 falls squarely in that pocket,” says Chan. “I think we’re very fortunate to have the support we do.”
One of the reasons the team has managed to garner backing from so many funding groups is that the tricorder isn’t their first attempt at high-level diagnostic innovation. DMI was the winner of the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE with their rHEALTH sensor technology, which not only took the grand prize, but was also awarded a trip to zero gravity with NASA. “You have to anticipate everything that’s going to happen even before you step on the airplane,” Chan says. “So how do you do that without ever being in that situation? It’s things like this that I’m most proud of – seeing how we can be thrown into unexpected issues and react to it fantastically well.” The XCHALLENGE trophy is now in the lobby of DMI’s headquarters where its presence fosters the enthusiasm and motivation the team will need to succeed in yet another competition.
“I think, in our case, the technology stands in a class of its own. This competition has been great, and I feel like we’ve taken what’s technically feasible and then pushed it even further. And that’s really what the XPRIZE is about – not repackaging existing products, but pushing the boundaries of what’s possible from a personal and a technological standpoint.”
While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.