Nearly 20 percent of money spent in the United States economy is on healthcare, with over $3 trillion going towards research and expenses in 2015 alone. While debates rage on about modifying the volatile and convoluted healthcare system that’s burned holes in the pockets of several Americans, some believe we’re taking the wrong approach on resolving this issue. Instead of working around the financial and political aspects, why not attack the matter directly at its source?
That’s what two scientists at Arizona State University are currently doing by developing a process that only requires a drop of blood to detect disease. ASU scientists Stephen Albert Johnston and Neal Woodbury are researching a diagnostic platform called ImmunoSignature, for the company HealthTell that researches innovative methods on perfecting the accuracy and efficiency of healthcare diagnostics. As mentioned earlier, the ImmunoSignature platform uses a single blood droplet to detect illnesses and conditions that require an immune response from the body like cancers, infectious, metabolic, and neurologic diseases. The process is so precise it can detect illness in someone’s body before the patient exhibits any outward symptoms.
According to Johnston, the idea is to redirect the focuses of diagnoses from post-symptomatic to pre-symptomatic, which is exactly ImmunoSignature’s specialty.
“My goal has always been to detect illness before it begins,” said Johnston, who also teaches at ASU’s School of Life Sciences. “In other words, I would like to see the concept of the patient become extinct. That is the only way we can truly stop the relentless increases in the cost of healthcare. With this new alliance, we are closer than ever.”
The “alliance” Johnston refers to is the Digital Life Alliance (DLA), a coalition of seven core research companies from all wakes of the scientific community. Backed by funds totaling around $400 million, the DLA will merge genetic, biological, and patient-generated data with sequencing AI technology that instantly detects meaningful signals about health, aging, and disease, which in turn will comprise a personalized guide for a healthy lifestyle. The collective incorporation of different science research brands is considered revolutionary, and has established a “wild west”-type culture around DLA’s research.
According to Johnston, antibodies are always registering the body’s health status, an attribute he wanted to utilize so he could attain a complete antibody reading through the simplest means possible. First tested in 2006, the ImmunoSignature process uses 4000 short pieces of proteins called peptides that are about a millionth of an inch. The peptides are arranged in 10 rows on a microscope-sized glass slide. Blood samples are diluted and put on a silicon wafer. The silicon wafer chips are agnostic, and bind to any type of antibody, which will have their own distinct patterns. Blood from a test and control subject are respectively applied on the peptide rows, whose documented reactions are then compared to each other. Out of the 4000 peptides, any differences in just one or two of them indicates the presence of disease. The images of these results are uploaded onto computers, and are equivalent to taking a snapshot of the body’s immune system.
The ImmunoSignature platform can simultaneously detect up to 15 diseases, and identify around 50 illnesses or conditions from a single drop of blood. Johnston has researched this project since 2005, and conducted trial tests on over 1500 individuals with a 95 percent accuracy rate. The high-density peptide array platform is the first real-time assessment that will be simple, inexpensive, and comprehensive in terms of diagnosing illnesses and conditions. ImmunoSignature can use samples up to 20-years old, is 10-100 times more sensitive than standard diagnoses tests, and has outperformed the best diagnoses methods on the market. Johnston believes this technology for tracking and reporting disease biomarkers directly to patients could be available within the next five years, and one goal within HealthTell is to set up a central lab to process incoming samples mailed in from patients.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)