News Column

Exploring not-so-final frontier in health care

August 28, 2014

By Michelle Healy, @ByMichelleHealy, USA TODAY

Decades after the medical crew aboard the USS Enterprise first used a "tricorder" to scan patients for ailments and anomalies, real world science is working to catch up.

Wednesday, 10 teams were named finalists in a $10 million-prize competition to create a lightweight, portable, wireless device that can diagnose and monitor several medical conditions -- from anemia to HIV to stroke. The announcement came during the opening ceremony of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society International Conference in Chicago.

Four finalists in the Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize contest are from the USA; the others are from Europe, Asia and Canada. They represent non-profits, academia, start-ups, and established device manufacturers, says Erik Viirre, technical and medical director for the competition.

More than 300 teams from around the world initially joined the Star Trek-inspired challenge, launched in January 2012, followed by 21 official team submissions.

Next comes further judging from a panel of experts, diagnostic evaluations and consumer testing before a first-, second- and third-place winner will be named in early 2016 -- the 50th anniversary of the TV series' debut -- and take prizes worth $7 million, $2 million and $1 million, respectively.

Qualcomm Foundation, the charitable arm of mobile technology company Qualcomm, provided the prize money.

"The theme of Star Trek is really about what the future is going to be like and the kind of technology we're going to see," Viirre says. The challenge, to create "a handheld medical laboratory connected to computers," suggests what the next generation of mobile phones will be, he says.

By demonstrating the ability of sensor technologies as tools for health care providers to diagnose and treat patients, "this competition is really about leading a kind of revolution in consumer-driven health care," says Grant Campany, competition senior director.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will offer regulatory input to the competing teams to help them prepare for potential FDA review after the competition, Campany says.

The XPrize Foundation, a Los Angeles-based non-profit group, creates high-profile challenges in five categories (energy and environment; exploration; global development; learning; and life sciences) to encourage "radical breakthroughs" that benefit humanity. The projects "don't fit in traditional research funding systems," Viirre says.

Rules for the Tricorder challenge: Entries continuously take a patient's vital signs (including blood pressure, respiratory rate and temperature); detect a prescribed set of 15 diseases; and weigh less than 5 pounds.

While Starfleet personnel used tricorders to perform duties, the XPrize competition is built on the premise that Earthbound citizens could benefit from access to such a tool, Viirre says. You wouldn't have to be Mr. Spock or Dr. McCoy to utilize the data, he says.

The multi-part, integrated Aezon prototype finalist, for example, utilizes a wearable monitoring unit that continuously tracks the wearer's vital signs; a portable, lightweight lab box that reads disposable cartridges that test for the 15 specified diseases; and a smartphone app that directs users to needed diagnostic tests based on symptoms. All data are stored in a cloud where they can be accessed and analyzed using Aezon's Web application.

Aezon's team members are all students at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Team leader Tatiana Rypinski, 21, a senior biomedical engineering major, says the aim of the competition, "stimulating the development of technology so that it can be used to improve access to health care," offered, "from a technical standpoint, a type of challenge we never could have gotten anywhere else."

Cloud DX


Innovation: The patent-pending Vitaliti necklace and cuff record streams of biological data, from which measurements of 11 physiological parameters (including blood pressure, pulse rate, respiration rate and heart arrhythmia detection) are taken. Uses proprietary cloud-based algorithms. Results are available instantly on any tablet, and are securely stored in the cloud for later retrieval, charting, trending and data mining.


Headquarters:Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Innovation: In the current phase of development, the technology offers integrated blood pressure, temperature and pulse oximeter (to measure oxygen saturation) in a single device, which is developed and is awaiting clinical trials. The next development phase will include integrating ECG (electrocardiogram), spirometer to test lung function, blood chemistry analyzer and glucose.


Headquarters:Cambridge, Mass.

Innovation: A universal blood sensor that integrates a broad set of medical diagnostics in a compact portable unit. Technologies used are based on DMI's rHEALTH Sensor, developed with support from NASA and the NIH.

Dynamical Biomarkers Group (BioDyn)

Headquarters:Zhongli City, Taoyuan, Taiwan

Innovation: Five subsystems -- a Smart Vital-Sense-Patch and Smart Vital-Sense-Wrist module; Smart Blood Sense module; Smart Scope module; Smart Exhaler module; and Smart Urine Sense module -- designed to be used by consumers simply and intuitively. Wirelessly connected to a smartphone, which runs a user-friendly app that carries out analysis to generate disease diagnosis.

Final Frontier Medical Devices

Headquarters:Paoli, Pa.

Innovation: Basil Leaf Technologies' DxtER(pronounced Dexter), is a portable, consumer-level device capable of collecting and interpreting large amounts of data to diagnose specific medical conditions, provide users with real-time insight regarding their health, and guide them to appropriate action. Developers deconstructed the diagnostic process for 22 medical conditions, then replicated them within the device's diagnostic engine (DxtER's "brain"). "It's an intuitive device that uses data that's robust enough to make a real clinical diagnosis," says team leader Basil Harris.

MESI Simplifying diagnostics

Headquarters:Ljubljana, Slovenia

Innovation: System consists of a medical-grade wristband and in-depth "modules" called "Shield," "To see," "To hear," "Pee" and "Blood." The wristband continuously monitors a patient's activity, and basic vital-signs modules provide additional information needed for diagnoses. The wearable "Shield" module, for example, provides more detailed vital-signs data. Data come together in a smartphone app where, with the help of an extensive questionnaire, it is presented in colorful and clear results.


Headquarters:Moffett Field, Calif.

Innovation:Scanadu Scout, a Bluetooth-enabled device, scans vital signs, including temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate and blood pressure, and sends readings to your smartphone. Included with the sensor are two disposable ScanaFlo urine analysis paddles for testing for pregnancy and health problems. The Scanadu Scout is "a medical instrument that can almost replace a clinic," company founder Walter De Brouwer told USA TODAY in 2013.



Innovation:SCANurse utilizes novel existing technological solutions to solve multiple sensing challenges, from breath analysis to movement and visual analysis. The technical approach avoids the use of biological samples such as blood to maintain simplicity for the user. The interface is based on interactive engagement with the user to encourage long-term device-user interaction, together with a simple and easy-to-understand display of results.


Headquarters:Belfast, Northern Ireland

Innovation:A wearable, non-invasive cardio-event monitor that detects when arrhythmias occur and immediately transmits them over Wi-Fi to a secure server that can be reviewed and diagnosed by a physician. It also detects respiration rate, temperature, and motion, plus blood and urine for a variety of additional tests.

Source Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize

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Source: USA Today

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