Monday, September 16, 2013

The Breakthrough of Instant Diagnosis - Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos

'The reality within our health-care system today is that when someone you care about gets really sick, by the time you find that out it's most often too late to do anything about it. It's heartbreaking. Because in those moments, there's nothing you wouldn't do to change it, and too often you're helpless," says Elizabeth Holmes. "We're finding cancer when you have a tumor, or heart disease by virtue of the fact that you're having a heart attack." She wants to change that.

Ms. Holmes, a 29-year-old chemical and electrical engineer and entrepreneur, dropped out of Stanford as an undergraduate after founding a life sciences company called Theranos in 2003. Her inventions, which she is discussing in detail here for the first time, could upend the industry of laboratory testing and might change the way we detect and treat disease.

en years ago, Ms. Holmes was working out of the basement of a group college house, a world away from her current headquarters at a rambling industrial building in a research park just off campus. The company's real estate was one of the few Theranos facts known to Silicon Valley, but one suggestive of the closely held business's potential: The space was once home to Facebook, and before that Hewlett-Packard.

The secret that hundreds of employees are now refining involves devices that automate and miniaturize more than 1,000 laboratory tests, from routine blood work to advanced genetic analyses. Theranos's processes are faster, cheaper and more accurate than the conventional methods and require only microscopic blood volumes, not vial after vial of the stuff. The experience will be revelatory to anyone familiar with current practices, which often seem like medicine by Bram Stoker.

A Theranos technician first increases blood flow to your hand by applying a wrap similar to one of those skiing pocket warmers, then uses a fingerstick to draw a few droplets of blood from the capillaries at the end of your hand. The blood wicks into a tube in a cartridge that Ms. Holmes calls a "nanotainer," which holds microliters of a sample, or about the amount of a raindrop. The nanotainer is then run through the analyzers in a Theranos laboratory. Results are usually sent back to a physician, but a full blood work-up—metabolic and immune markers, cell count, etc.—was in my inbox by the time I walked out the door. (Phew: all clear.)

It's the kind of modern, painless service that consumers rarely receive in U.S. health care, though Ms. Holmes makes the point the other way around: "We're here in Silicon Valley inside the consumer technology world . . . and what we think we're building is the first consumer health-care technology company. Patients are empowered by having better access to their own health information, and then by owning their own data.

And the BIG question is:

The other obvious tech reality is that the devices keep shrinking, and over the last several years Theranos has been granted several patents for portable diagnosis system at the point of care. One of them even invokes—forget the iWatch—a wearable diagnostic device that would attach to the body with silicon microneedles "about the size of a human hair."

The biggest question is whether Ms. Holmes has discovered one of those often promised, more often elusive disruptive innovations designed to cut costs while improving quality. In a conversation about a year ago, Secretary Shultz said Ms. Holmes could be "the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates."

- More Here

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