Lab on a Chip

A few friends of mine have discounted my optimism that in the future we will all have gadgets that monitor our health numbers in real time. From the post The Healthy Optimist:

Today we can work with labs, get blood work, send payment and then wait for the results. Once we get those results, we work with health practitioners to make adjustment and then we retest. The feedback loop today is too slow and too expensive. And because so few data snapshots are collected, the data might not be an accurate reflection on an individual’s day to day state of health.

In the future we will be able to do this tests at home as many times as we like. These gadgets will be as common as the bathroom scale. Instead of going months or years with a nutrient deficiency, we will be correcting them in days or hours.

The response I got is that the health care industry will never allow these devices to the consumer. I heard the same argument when music went digital. So many people said that the recording industry would never allow consumers access to digital copies of music, because they were too easy to copy. How did that work out? Information wants to be free. Medical information is no different.

Right now I am reading the stellar book Abundance and one of the topics is about addressing doctor shortages and getting quicker medical test results to improve the quality of health in Africa. Seems one angle of what I predicted would come is already being pursued as a promising healthcare tool. The technology is called Lab-on-a-chip and the goal is to compress as many medical lab tests as possible on a chip, which can be taken to the people in need. This will provide patients with immediate information they can act upon. Lab-on-a-chip will be a life saving technology for areas with doctor shortages and patient won’t need to wait weeks to respond to find out what disease they have, during which time the disease hasn’t slowed down.

I expect the serious life-and-death labs will be the first ones developed, but then it will progress to health optimization. Hackers like myself and the people who read this blog will start playing with these devices and sharing their data will others. Health goals that might have taken years could be reduced to months or weeks. More data please.

Abundance by Peter H. Diamandis

Lab on a chip technology is in its infancy, but it looks promising. Provide cheaper, quicker and portable access to medical data. In the future we will all be more healthy, because the data feedback loops will be far quicker. We will be alerted of inflammation and cancers long before they get a chance to do real damage.

The health care industry won’t be able to fight it if they wanted. They will be fine though. Instead of shot gun solutions full of side effects, they will be forced to develop personalized solutions on a patient-by-patient basis. What if the medicine was able to listen to the body and change as the condition changed? I think that technology is coming. In the meantime, eat your ferments and beef liver. 🙂


Add yours

  1. Gosh, I have been giving the concept of ‘personalised medicine’ much thought recently. It is very refreshing to read that the medical community is slowly turning its attention towards technology which provide more instantaenous and more regular health feedback.

    In fact, the progression towards personalised medicine is already happening full steam in my opinion. With the advent of mobile applications, more and more people are using apps that allow you track and evaluate. As you have rightly pointed out, this whole movement is still in its infancy but things aren’t as bleak as we like to picture them. Recently, I was testing a mobile EEG device (this measures your brain waves) which you could simply plug into your smart phone – how amazing is that!!

    Already you can measure blood glucose level, blood pressure, skin cancer risk, Malaria risk etc. on your phone using simple add-ons. I haven’t tried out these technologies yet but it looks promising to me.

    See here for more info:

    The dogmatic mainstream notion has people thinking that only your doctor is qualified enough to make a correct assessment of your state of health. He may be – but hell, the best doctor dwells within ourselves!!

    Keep the revolution in medical technology coming. For the moment, I try to contribute my share as a biomedical engineer.

  2. @Stephan – Yep. Tech heads will bypass medical professionals. The book I’m reading states there are already 16,000 medial apps available already. Thanks for the link. The future is going to arrive faster than I first imagined.

  3. IEEE’s Spectrum Magazine had a journalist strap on a lot of devices for a couple of months to write this article:

  4. @Garymar – Someday I might experiment with the ZEO or a sleeping app. I have been tracking my sleep quality via a spreadsheet now for 13 months now. My data shows that my sleep is deeper and better in the winter months and worst near the Summer Solstice. Late caffeine is also bad. High sugar has no impact. Nor does chamomile tea. For a long time, sleeping on my side improved my sleep quality, but I no longer believe that to true. 5-HTP seems to help also – but only slightly.

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