disease control and researchA recent report at Wired discusses the latest in medical technology: the rHEALTH. It is an object that is no bigger than the palm of a person’s hand, yet its disease detection capabilities could mark a distinct change in the manner which patients receive medical care.

rHEALTH uses lasers to detect, with only a single drop of blood, ailments from which a person may currently suffer. It has the potential to scan for the influenza virus, proteins, vitamin levels in the blood, and advanced diseases such as the human immunodeficiency virus. Through a scaling down of technological components, it can do with a drop of blood what would normally take numerous vials. And soon that technology may end up in the hands of clinicians and consumers alike.

Eugene Chan, a doctor at the DNA Medical Institute co-creator of the rHEALTH device, provided for Wired his thoughts on the technology and the device itself.

“There used to be no method for good, autonomous diagnosis,” Chan said to Wired. “rHEALTH technology is highly sensitive, quantitative, and capable of meeting the FDA’s bar for sophistication, while still being geared for consumers.”

“It’s a symphony of innovations, but we’ve pushed all of them individually to create the device,” Chan continued.

Usage of rHEALTH begins with a test strip on which users can place a drop of their blood. The device then loads the test strip and scans the included blood by spinning it through a micro-mixer and sending the blood past a series of lasers. Each laser’s intensity and the manner in which it scatters determines diagnosis.

It is the combination of technologies that, Chan said, is the true breakthrough for rHEALTH. It is currently limited to testing for cell counts, HIV, vitamin D, and a number of protein markers. Even with that limited number of tests, the handheld unit still shrinks down a room full of hardware into a package which may be considered futuristic. Chan and his team are advancing the product by adding more tests and making it reliable enough for commercial distribution.

Initially, Wired points out, distribution to researchers will be the easiest among the potential recipients that include clinicians and consumers. rHEALTH must only pass institutional review boards before making its way to research facilities. It can bypass the FDA and, at the same time, provide Chan’s team with important information about its use. The process will take much longer when targeting clinicians and consumers because the device will have to gain FDA approval and meet much stricter standards. Three different models will address the needs of the three populations: rHEALTH One is for translational research, rHEALTH X is meant for clinicians, and rHEALTH X1 will target consumers.

The DNA Medical Institute received funding for the rHEALTH project from NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Chan and his team then won the Nokia Sensing XChallenge that the XPrize Foundation operates and which provides funding for winning teams that create self-diagnosis tools. Now, his team is in the running for the Tricorder XPRIZE which will provide $10 million in prize money to a winning group that will create a Star Trek-type device that can detect 16 distinct health conditions.

Image courtesy of CDC via Wikimedia Commons.