We're one step closer to Star Trek-style medicine—250 years ahead of schedule

A self-funded team lead by a Philadelphia-area ED physician has won the international X Prize tricorder consumer medical competition, which was inspired by the famed "Star Trek" gadget that instantly diagnosed a range of medical conditions.

Making fact from fiction

According to Washington Post, the competition, launched in 2012, asked applicants to build an affordable, lightweight health kit that can diagnose and interpret 13 health conditions and monitor five vital signs. For example, the device should be able to diagnose conditions such as anemia, pneumonia, and diabetes as well as monitor blood pressure, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation level. The device also had to be consumer friendly.

There are some key differences between fact and fiction though, the Post reports. The devices are designed to be used by a patient, not a physician like the fictional Dr. McCoy. Oh, and if the device is commercialized, it would come roughly 250 years ahead of the one imagined in the original "Star Trek."

The winning team

Last week, Final Frontier Medical Devices took home first place in the competition and $2.6 million in prize money, beating out more than 300 competitors. Basil Harris—an ED physician at Lankenau Medical Center, who also holds a Ph.D. in engineering from Cornell University—led the seven-person team.

The winning device, DxtER, is an "artificial intelligence-based engine" that "learns to diagnose medical conditions by integrating learnings from clinical emergency medicine with data analysis from actual patients," according to a release. It also features a "potentially revolutionary device for testing blood, glucose, hemoglobin, and white-blood cell count by using a finger cuff instead of the lancet that can be the bane of a diabetic's existence," the Post reports.

Venture capital investment in medical technology is way down—but there's more to the story

Overall, Harris has applied for seven patents related to the device. Prior to last week's win, Harris' only previous invention was a cotton candy machine that he made in grade school.

Dynamical Biomarkers Group—a team that started with 50 physicians, scientists, and programmers, sponsored by the Taiwanese government and cell phone manufacturer HTC—came in second place, winning $1 million in prize money. The smartphone-controlled device pairs diagnostic algorithms with analytical methodology, according to a X Prize release. The team was led by Harvard Medical School professor C.K. Peng.

Moving forward, the Qualcomm Foundation, which sponsored the competition, has committed to investing $3.8 million for continued testing and development of the two top teams' and four semifinalists' designs. The organization will also provide both groups with "support in FDA testing, in securing production and marketing, and in creating a documentary and museum exhibit about the tricorder's potential," the Post reports (Samuel STAT News, 2/21; Heller, Washington Post, 4/13; X Prize team page, accessed 4/17; X Prize release, 4/13; X Prize overview, accessed 4/17).

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