by Dennis Ernst • November 03, 2017
The road to a cheap, accurate, single-drop blood test is paved with peril. The Theranos meltdown is a classic example of how not to introduce "revolutionary" technology. But two companies are plodding forward methodically, cautiously, and with an abundance of due diligence, something Theranos overlooked.
Athelas (Mountain View, California) is empowering patients to draw their own fingerstick blood and test it for white blood count, neutrophils, lymphocytes, and platelets in the comfort and privacy of their own home or office. According to an article in Bloomberg, the goal of Athelas (named after the healing herb in The Lord of the Rings) is to enable cancer patients who rely on frequent blood draws to monitor blood cell counts, to know when it's time for another round of chemotherapy in advance. Because WBC counts are required to monitor the timing of chemotherapy dosages, patients who can get an accurate count at home can save themselves an unnecessary trip should their count be too low for their next dose. Saving cancer patients from unnecessary trips to their oncologist saves them not only the inconvenience, but prevents their exposure to community-acquired pathogens when they are the most vulnerable.
Athelas was founded by Tanay Tandon and Deepika Bodapati, dropouts from the University of Southern California, who claim their portable blood analyzer can run a complete blood-cell count from fingerstick blood. The patient performs her own fingerstick, touches a card to the drop of blood, inserts the card into the testing device, and receives the results in sixty seconds. According to the article, the point-of-care testing device is a black cylinder resembling Amazon’s Echo device. The founders expect FDA approval this year, which will allow them to sell the device over the counter directly to consumers. It is their hope oncologists will recommend the device to their patients to help coordinate their care and bring down costs.
Another company, Seventh Sense BioSystems (Medford, Massachussetts), just launched the TAP (Touch-Activated Phlebotomy) device which extracts capillary blood into its patented device virtually painlessly for transport to testing facilities. TAP was showcased at last month's Global Summit on Best Practices in Preanalytics. and featured in the March 2017 issue of this newsletter.
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