Compact Device Can Diagnose Hundreds of Diseases With Just a Drop of Blood

The technology allows patients to test their own blood in remote parts of the world or even in space.
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The technology allows patients to test their own blood in remote parts of the world or even in space.

Dr. Eugene Chan and his team at the DNA Medical Institute won the Nokia Sensing XChallenge last week for inventing the rHEALTH, a compact device that can diagnose hundreds of diseases with just a drop of blood.

The inspiration for the rHEALTH happened while Dr. Chan was having difficulty drawing blood from an HIV patient during a late-night shift at the hospital. After that, he wondered if there could be a faster and more efficient way to obtain and test blood samples from patients.

“Because of that small experience, we embarked on developing this technology over the course of the past few years,” Dr. Chan said.

There are currently three versions of the rHEALTH. The compact rHEALTH One is for researchers, while the handheld rHEALTH X models are aimed at medical personnel and consumers.

Another company called Theranos can also diagnose many diseases with a drop of blood, but the analysis is still conducted by an actual lab. With the rHEALTH, the diagnosis is done by the device itself, Dr. Chan explained. So patients can check their blood if they’re in a remote part of the world or even in space.

Not Impossible Now spoke with Dr. Chan about the rHEALTH soon after being recognized by the XPRIZE Foundation. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)

Congratulations on winning the Nokia Sensing XChallenge. What does it mean for you and your team to be recognized by the XPRIZE Foundation?

Dr. Eugene Chan: It means a ton. The XPRIZE is obviously a very credible prize-granting organization. We’re certainly honored to be part of the XPRIZE family. We ended up beating out some very qualified teams from top universities and companies around the world. It’s a validation of all the work that my team has done over the course of the past few years.

And it’s a validation of people’s desires to be unchained from the health care system and be able to take care of themselves as best that they can.

NIN: How is the rHEALTH different from the traditional method of obtaining and analyzing blood samples?

Dr. Chan: The rHEALTH technology uses a fingerstick, so this is similar to the way that a glucose test would be performed. The big difference with the traditional fingersticks is that typically you get one lab value for that one fingerstick, because it’s a tiny volume of blood. We’ve been able to devise a method in the rHEALTH technology that allows us to measure hundreds of different tests in that single drop of blood. So that’s really the new and profound difference.

If you wanted to do something like that today, you’d have to take multiple fingersticks and stick them in multiple different devices to get the different answers. And now, you’ve got this collection of 20-30 different devices and multiple fingersticks on all these fingers and it’s starting to hurt. And so, it’s definitely not possible. What we’ve done is we’ve been able to do it with one device and basically use that one drop of blood pretty efficiently.

rHEALTH

The rHEALTH One device. (Photo courtesy of the XPRIZE Foundation)

How does the wearable aspect of the rHEALTH device compare to other wearables such as smartwatches or fitness trackers?

Dr. Chan: There’s a vitals patch associated with the rHEALTH X technology that the user can wear. It will give you continuous EKG readings, respiratory rate, core body temperature, pretty much everything on the physiology side.

Right now, for wearables, there’s a bunch of things out there for fitness tracking and sleep tracking, but it’s not very interesting. It’s what I call pseudo information. It’s the kind of information that you kind of know yourself already. I know how much I ran for my jog, and I know how well I slept last night, I don’t need some little device telling me that. In fact, I probably want to throw it out, right? But if it gives you medically actionable information, it becomes valuable because you can make a clinical decision on it.

What advice do you have for young people in the health field who have an idea that could make a difference for patients but are getting pushback?

Dr. Chan: You’ve got to have the courage and the conviction and the ideas to be able to push it through. Ultimately, these things just don’t happen quickly. They don’t take a few months, they don’t take a few weeks. We’re talking years of dedication and focus, and it’s really the intensity by which you’re dedicated to that piece of it to make it happen over the course of that time. 

If you’re distracted and doing something else or if you’re trying to do it on the side, it gets a little tricky because you don’t have the level of focus to overcome those significant hurdles. It might be a technical hurdle, it might be a financing hurdle, it might be a regulatory hurdle. Whatever it might be, it requires you to be all in. You’ve got to be 150% in to make it happen. 

Learn more about the rHEALTH devices by watching the XPRIZE video below.

Top photo courtesy of the XPRIZE Foundation