"I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain!” When Star Trek’s USS Enterprise chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott uttered this catch-phrase, diagnostic testing wasn’t on his mind. But applying the same gumption set over 400 initial teams to go boldly where no clinical laboratorians had gone before in developing a platform that could enable reliable health diagnoses anywhere, anytime.
In yesterday’s special session, “A Conversation with Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE Innovators,” the winner and two finalists in this high-profile competition described their 5-year odyssey to develop consumer devices weighing no more than five pounds that could diagnose 13 health conditions and capture real-time health vital signs.
Special session moderators Shannon Haymond, PhD, DABCC, and Stephen Master, MD, PhD, FACB, hosted Phillip Charron who represented the winning team, Final Frontier Medical Devices, and their device, DxtER. Chung-Kang Peng, PhD, represented the second-place team, Dynamical Biomarkers Group, and their DeepIQ device, and Eugene Chan, MD, represented the DNA Medical Institute and its rHEALTH device.
Jessica Chang, designer and developer of the Qualcomm Tricoder XPRIZE competition, reviewed the history of the competition. When Qualcomm launched the program 2011, Uber and Fitbits didn’t exist and Yelp was still in its infancy, but Chang’s group recognized that radical breakthroughs in healthcare would require innovations in technology to be ready for consumers. They believed that success required leveraging the consumer to create a device that people would be willing to use. As such, the competition was designed as a consumer test program, not a clinical trial, and competitors submitted their devices for testing by 450 consumers. On the technology side, the Nokia Sensing xChallenge was initiated to spur innovation in sensor technology needed for the Tricorder prize program. “Healthcare isn’t rocket science, it’s harder,” Chang said.
rHEALTH evolved around the concept of building the world’s smallest flow cytometer to measure fluorescence of single molecules. The inventors were driven by the idea that “without looking into the blood, it’s going to be very difficult to diagnose many diseases,” Chan said.
The DeepIQ device from Dynamical Biomarkers Group is a system of three modules that measure vitals, blood and urine, and includes a scope for imaging. Meanwhile the DxtER group focused on developing an artificial intelligence engine “to learn from years of [emergency medicine] experience” by modeling the questions and processes used by physicians during patient encounters,” Charron said.
One common thread among the teams was the challenge of engineering user interfaces for the devices. The teams discovered that even simple things like closing the lid on a device, placing sensors on the body, or placing chips in an analyzer became unexpected obstacles.
When asked by Haymond what area still required substantial innovation, all of the teams agreed that more work is required on the ability to tie together all of the device components. Peng commented that breakthroughs in non-invasive scanning were needed. And Charron noted that the pace of change in technology had been so rapid that they’d chosen to reboot components from scratch when new bandwidth or sensing capabilities became available.
While the XPRIZE group sees the ultimate device as something so consumer-friendly that it would not require oversite from medical professionals, in response to a question from Masters about accuracy and how data should flow, all the participants agreed that accuracy was key and that a medical professional should be involved. “The value is in creating an informed consumer and an informed clinician who could work together for efficient health care decision making,” Charron said.