Nanobiosym, a nanotechnology firm based in Boston, Mass., has created a mobile device that can accurately test for HIV/AIDS in some of the most remote places on Earth, and do it in under an hour.
Called Gene-Radar, the iPad sized piece of technology works by taking a drop of blood, saliva, or other bodily fluid and placing it on a nanochip that is then put into the device.
The tech has the potential to revolutionize medicine — the low accuracy of and limited accessibility to HIV/AIDS tests in isolated areas could no longer be a problem, and Gene-Radar could help drive down the cost of such tests worldwide. The device could track disease outbreaks in real time and help contain them, proliferate the personalization of medicine, and change the nature of an individual’s relationship with his or her caretakers.
Dr. Anita Goel, chairman and CEO of Nanobiosym, told Mashable that there are multiple types of HIV/AIDS tests. The most common in Rwanda, where she went to test Gene-Radar, is what’s known as the “quick and dirty.” It’s fast, but not accurate. “Gold standard” tests, which she said her device is able to provide, usually take six months to yield results. There is only one location in the country where doctors can conduct such an exam, she said, and around 200,000 people need it. Even in the U.S., a “gold standard” test takes at least two weeks to get results and can cost $200.
“What we’ve done at Gene-Radar is take that test that costs $200 and takes two weeks and make it accessible,” Goel said. “So we’ve brought it almost 50 to 100 times cheaper.”
They’ve also brought the test to many who would otherwise never know if they had HIV or AIDS.
The rapid test results can also be used to track and contain disease outbreaks, Goel said. Gene-Radar is a device, but what gives it the ability to test for HIV/AIDS is an app. Nanobiosym has already developed another app to test for E. coli, and is working on several different ones that could detect ailments such as malaria or tuberculosis.
“Our device could be used not only to sense who has this disease, but upload the data into a cloud, so you could monitor the disease spreading in this place,” Goel said.
The device’s mobility also has implications for the personalization of medicine, which in turn could transform modern care-taking.
Medicine’s future, Goel said, will not be based on one-size-fits-all standards of care, but treatments that take a person’s biomarkers into account.
“If you have certain traits, you may be either resistant or more susceptible to certain treatments,” Goel said.
Gene-Radar can track diseases with a genetic footprint from the beginning so that care can be swift. It also factors in element, such as how a patient reacts to gluten, that could affect the type of medicine used.
“We’re empowering you as the consumer to take ownership of your own health, and making the entire healthcare ecosystem, the doctors and nurses, the whole ecosystem, as more supportive and collaborative,” Goel said.
Nanobiosym is trying to make healthcare available in the way that the Internet made information available to billions.
“There are four billion people on Earth who don’t have access to basic healthcare,” Goel said. “That’s the transformation we’re talking about.” She added, “One of the challenges we have is what we’re talking about doing is disruptive to the traditional, centralized, multi-billion dollar industry of diagnostics.”
Moving healthcare away from hospitals and doctor’s offices is a radical notion, which is why Nanobiosym has sought partners they believe understand the need for treatment products to be mobile and personalized. Though Goel didn’t reveal who those partners are, she said they have about 10 of them around the globe in many areas that without this technology would not have access to modern healthcare, including parts of Rwanda.
Nanobiosym is just at the beginning of this revolution, but it has a few more planned. Goel said they’re already working on a next generation diagnostic device that is the size of a smartphone, and that they have developed a prototype for a third generation that would be wearable. The company even has plans for the fourth model, which, Goel said, will be ingestible.