When it comes to medical diagnostic technologies, the focus has always been on disease detection. Having a device to instantly detect the presence of particular diseases in a patient’s body is desirable in a world where early detection is the key to containing the effects of such conditions. Yet, nutrition diagnostics technologies have been much less formulated than these disease diagnostics ones. This is the perfectly niche space in which VitaScan, a Cornell start-up, is taking giant steps.
The VitaScan team – a group of Cornell Ph.D. students and professors – started research over five years ago with initial funding from the Cornell Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. The team’s CTO, Dakota O’Dell (‘16), walked us through VitaScan’s product. They are essentially creating a nutrient deficiency scanner, which works by placing a single drop of blood onto their engineered test strip and inserting the strip into the physical reader. Within ten minutes, results are visible by phone or computer, and the user can see if they are deficient in any essential vitamins.
The product is best explained by example. Imagine a user who is always feeling tired. They perform a VitaScan blood test, and within ten minutes are sent the results to their phone – turns out they are deficient in Vitamin D. In fact, three out of four people are! The app recommends they spend more time in the sun by noticing that they did not log much outdoor activity during the day. This not only makes the user aware of what is causing their fatigue, but also gives him or her advice as to how increase their vitamin levels.
VitaScan exists not only at the threshold of the nutritional diagnostics niche, but also in the ever-important world-health realm. Dakota pointed out that locally (within the United States), VitaScan is a device with a similar market to the smart-watch – people who love to see their personal data, who want to be on top of their health and fitness. This can be just as useful for healthy, fit lifestyles, as for unhealthy ones, as VitaScan’s device can tell users why they might be feeling lightheaded or tired. This is the local user story.
On the other hand, there is another user, the global-scale patient who lives in an area where the infrastructure for testing for nutritional deficiencies does not yet exist. VitaScan’s device and app offers the availability of having results show up on a phone within ten minutes of collecting the blood sample. Early on, VitaScan has focused on some key factors to make this possible: small size, low cost, and high portability. In fact, they don’t currently need to pass through an external server to send results to the phone or computer – so lack of internet connection is not an issue here (which is great, because it will not be available in areas which are off-the-grid). This also cleverly allows the team to avoid many medical privacy concerns which accompany having patient information stored in a virtual database.
Now, VitaScan is entering a unique stage, the transition from lab development at Cornell to industry. Dakota explained that the team is focusing on first clearing the professional version of the system, partnering with physicians and clinics. Choosing to focus on this rather than on testing with individuals (who may purchase the device to have in their own homes) will allow them to conduct a series of clinical trials and get feedback from healthcare providers first. From there, the plan is to start introducing the product to the commercial market. Beginning testing in the local scope of the United States will help to bankroll and improve the parallel plans for global use of the device, which will begin in parts of India.
Check up on the VitaScan team and progress here!