The seed of team SCANurse germinated when leader Anil Vaidya heard the announcement of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE.
The seed of team SCANurse germinated when leader Anil Vaidya heard the announcement of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE. The details immediately resonated with Vaidya, a healthcare industry worker who says he’s always wondered why these kinds of devices aren’t already on the market. “From my point of view,” he explains, “the health industry is split between biologists and people who are more of the engineering type. And there certainly seems to be a difference in our thought processes.” Vaidya decided that it might possible to develop engineering solutions to make certain types of diagnoses – and the desire to satisfy that unmet need inspired him to become an XPRIZE participant.
Team SCANurse itself consists mainly of people Vaidya would categorize as “engineering types.” With his biomedical background, he often finds himself speaking both languages – providing biological or chemical information to his technically minded colleagues. But translating the other way, from engineering back to biomedical science, is more difficult; Vaidya says, “Working with biologists and chemists who said it couldn’t be done a certain way has always been frustrating.” As a result, he’s chosen to fill the limited slots available on his team with professionals in engineering, software and design. The core of the group is in London, where the actual tricorder build occurs – but because many of the team’s experts live elsewhere, they spend a lot of time on the phone. The distance doesn’t bother Vaidya though. “We’re a very small team,” he says, “so when we get funding, we use it to get the best people on board.”
SCANurse’s device was first conceived of when it occurred to Vaidya that many disease states can actually be diagnosed through a standard procedure – one he refers to as a “pure engineering” solution. Though unable to share proprietary details, he explains, “We’re using traditional types of technologies in optics, movement recognition and even sound. We’re just using them in more novel ways.” The key to their device is that it isn’t an attempt to create a new gold standard for diagnostics – unlike many teams, SCANurse isn’t looking at blood sampling for biomarkers because he feels that it’s not very consumer-friendly. As a home service, they’ve decided that the tricorder should look at less invasive signals to indicate the likelihood that the user has a given medical condition. They’re also pushing for good user interface design, using small field trials with device prototypes, so that they can incorporate the needs of their patient populations. In the end, SCANurse would like to create a tricorder that is not only painless, but also simple to operate.
That’s the reason Vaidya thinks SCANurse was selected for the final stage of the competition – and the thing he hopes will set his team apart in the race to the top. “I think we just came up with a more novel solution,” he says. “I like to think that because we’re looking at it from both the design and the engineering way of doing things, that it gave us a bit of a boost. There are some amazing teams in the running for this, so I hope that what we’ve got places us in a slightly different league.” But even if the XPRIZE results don’t put SCANurse on top, their goals go beyond the competition; Vaidya hopes to find investors with the vision to see where the team’s product is going. Ultimately, the team wants to see people taking control of their own health – and the tricorder can help them do that by changing the landscape of diagnostics.
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.