There is a fascinating article in today's Wall Street Journal about Theranos, a company that is automating and miniaturizing laboratory tests. Founded by Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos uses a fingerstick to draw a large drop of blood from the skin rather than poking a vein to fill one or more vials.
The basic concept is not entirely new. The fingerstick method is routinely used by diabetes sufferers and people on anticoagulants. What's unique about Theranos is that they have or are developing fingerstick versions of a long list of blood tests. The fingerstick method is less expensive, safer, faster, and less error prone. For example, sticking a vein can cause a bruise. The blood must be put into vials and the vials sent to a lab that does the analysis. As Ms. Holmes points out, more people are involved when the traditional method is used, so there are more opportunities for error.
While Theranos does not currently support self-testing, a strategic alliance with Walgreens promises to bring testing closer to the consumer. Going to a hospital outpatient lab typically means driving to the hospital, parking a distance from the closest entrance, registering for the test, and sitting in a waiting room. Hopefully, Walgreens will offer testing in the evenings and on weekends when many hospital labs are closed.
The article ends with the suggestion that Theranos' technology could lead to wearable diagnostic devices using silicon microneedles. See my previous article about Gentag.