Can we build an actual Star Trek medical tricorder? They’re sure trying

The tricorder, a high-tech medical analyzer used on the show Star Trek for instant diagnoses. Ship’s Doctor, Leonard “Bones” McCoy would just wave it in the general direction of the patient, twist a knob or two and, presto, there was the diagnosis. It would give him the information he needed to say, “I can’t tell what’s wrong with him.” Or “His organs are like nothing I’ve ever seen before.” Or, even the classic, “He’s dead, Jim.”

Well, there’s now a competition to build a real tricorder.

bones-tricorder

Scanadu is one such company in the competition. The Scout is their production model. It’s a small sensing device can measure heart rate and rhythm and irregular rhythms, EKG, temperature, oximetry (how much oxygen your blood is carrying), even do a urinalysis and give you an idea of just how stressed you are at the time. The Scout, when used with selected smartphone apps, will allow the consumer to make intelligent choices about his medical condition.

spock-tricorder

One possible scenario could be the patient is experiencing some chest pain, is sweaty and nauseated, maybe a little dizzy. He uses the Scout and finds that his heart rhythm is abnormally fast (or slow) with irregular beats. His oximetry is low and pulse wave transit time is abnormal. All point to primarily a cardiac event. The smart phone apps can analyze the data and say (cue Robbie the Robot voice) “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger. Sensors state that you are having a heart attack. No need to see Doctor Smith.”

The data recorded can be saved and/or transmitted to the doctor’s office or ER long before the patient gets there. So the staff has some baseline information about what was going on long before the patient arrives. The cost for the scout is projected to be about $200-$300. (Though Quark could probably get you a better deal.)

And the Scanadu Scout isn’t the only tricorder on the event horizon. There are several others. One of the reasons is that Qualcomm is offering an XPrize for the development of a small, portable, wireless medical sensor that can be used easily to help monitor health conditions. The prize? $10,000,000.

Several others besides the NCG Scout are approaching warp speed in this race. Some manufacturers are micro miniaturizing so that the sensor can be implanted, attached to the skin or even swallowed. Several have different sensors that will allow them to measure some other parameters from what the Scout measures. I’m afraid that one brand may even be able to reproduce itself. We may be flooded with tricorder tribbles. Several of these devices are undergoing tests for FDA approval right now.

This technology may be great for a number of patients, possibly cutting down on ER visits, motivating other to go to an ER or their PCPs when necessary. Of course, it may make Bones somewhat superfluous, under used, lonely. Replaced by a gadget.

I think I’ll go to Ten Forward, talk to Guinan, grab a bottle of Aldebaran whiskey and go hide out in an Escape Pod.


Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    He doesn’t like to be called Shirley. :)

  • http://poodyheads.wordpress.com/ zorbear

    No fair — get in line!
    :-D

  • Jim Olson

    I think I love you.

  • eahopp

    My God Jim, I’m a doctor, not a tricorder inventor!

  • evodevo

    Surely you’re a Doug Adams fan, too, right?

  • Sphy

    Good! We’ve got these smart phones, about time they did something intelligent!

  • samizdat

    Wow, I remember reading about such a delivery method–targeted devices–in SciAm over ten years ago. As someone noted below, the reality often lags behind expectations. The same went with the blue laser, which had its genesis in a lab at NHK almost twenty years ago.

  • http://www.thoughtcrimes.org/ Kelvin Mace

    Okay, sorry, but this must be said.

    Robbie the Robot was the robot in the movie “Forbidden Planet”. The robot on “Lost in Space” was simply called “Robot”, though his official designation was “Robot B-9″.

    Right, now i can go to bed.

  • http://heimaey.us/ jim morrissey

    ??

  • docsterx

    Doxil (doxorubicin) can be used to treat ovarian cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma, multiple myeloma, etc. It can cause some severe side effects like congestive heart failure. So, using it, encapsulated in a DNA basket would, theoretically, allow it to be released just at the tumor site and not cause a side effect on other distant tissues like the heart in this case.

  • Guest

    don’t forget your towel

  • http://heimaey.us/ jim morrissey

    I forgot about that!!!!

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    Their money is made on treating individual symptoms, not the root cause of the problem. Have heart burn? Take a pill. No, don’t dare think that your diet and lifestyle might have something to do with it. Feeling depressed? Take a pill. What do you mean you still haven’t dealt with the grief of losing your wife? That can’t be it. Kid acting out in school? Give him a pill. It can’t possibly because you’re a failure as a parent, or the child isn’t being challenged enough. The list goes on and on and on.

    As for HIV, it has taken big money backers, through things like the Clinton Foundation, to convince drug makers to finally get around to making drugs affordable. So really, in the end, someone is paying for it – whether it’s in the direct cost to the consumer, or the bribery costs to encourage them to do the right thing.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Wasn’t Doxil one of the early prototypes to treat some types of sarcoma?

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Hello HIV cure, cancer cure etc. and etc………….

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    And having so much research and development entirely profit-driven certainly doesn’t help matters. An advancement could be ignored for years if big pharma companies can’t come up with a way to make enough profit on it, or if health insurance companies decide they don’t want to pay for it.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Deeper nerdiness: I knew from looking at that screenshot above that I could say with a high degree of certainty, it was from the episode, “Miri.”

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    All those stray particles is what the navigational deflector array was for. :)

  • docsterx

    Sorry, I accidentally posted this above.

    Researchers at Harvard have created a DNA “origami” nanobot that can
    target specific cells. This particular nanobot is barrel shaped and the
    “barrel” is held closed. The interior of the barrel can contain a
    specific chemical (an antibiotic, antiviral, chemotherapy drug, etc.).
    When injected into a human, receptors on the barrel are designed to attach to specific cells (cells
    infected with a virus or tumor cells). When the nanobot barrel attaches
    to the target cell, the “lock” opens and the drug/chemical is released
    at the site right on the target cell, making the killing of that cell
    much more efficient.

    Below are links to information from the paper and a video how the DNA barrel can assemble:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2737683/
    http://wyss.harvard.edu/viewmedia/32/dna-origamibased-selfassembly

  • docsterx

    Researchers at Harvard have created a DNA “origami” nanobot that can
    target specific cells. This particular nanobot is barrel shaped and the
    “barrel” is held closed. The interior of the barrel can contain a
    specific chemical (an antibiotic, antiviral, chemotherapy drug, etc.).
    When injected into a human, receptors on the barrel are designed to attach to specific cells (cells
    infected with a virus or tumor cells). When the nanobot barrel attaches
    to the target cell, the “lock” opens and the drug/chemical is released
    at the site right on the target cell, making the killing of that cell
    much more efficient.

    Below are links to information from the paper and a video how the DNA barrel can assemble:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2737683/

    http://wyss.harvard.edu/viewmedia/32/dna-origamibased-selfassembly

  • kassielam47lm

    мy coυѕιɴ ιѕ мαĸιɴɢ $51/нoυr oɴlιɴe. υɴeмployed ғor α coυple oғ yeαrѕ αɴd prevιoυѕ yeαr ѕнe ɢoт α $1З619cнecĸ wιтн oɴlιɴe joв ғor α coυple oғ dαyѕ. ѕee мore αт…­ ­ViewMore——————————————&#46qr&#46net/kAgk

    I hope it’s in our lifetime. Sadly, I learned recently, that space is way too vast and not as empty as we think, so particles would destroy The Enterprise IRL even if we could achieve warp speed which is essentially magic at this point. Debbie downer I know, but who knows, maybe we will hit Warp 7 one day.

  • Indigo

    Pardon my doubt . . .but I remember when my dad’s older sister passed away from breast cancer in 1955. It was too bad she didn’t last longer, the doctor assured us that the cure for cancer was only about 5 years away.

  • cole3244

    advances always seem just over the horizon but like others this is decades away but well worth the wait.

  • TheOriginalLiz

    waiting for nanotechnology to repair problems from the inside…

  • mj

    A DIFFERENT BLOG!! I LIKE IT!

    VISIT

    http://goo.gl/ga9Uvw

    http://goo.gl/iYfgvR

  • http://madisonleathersmith.com leathersmith

    the first tri-corder used a salt shaker for the “probe”

  • Jim Olson

    Wow. Epic nerdyness before breakfast. I love it. (Though the cross-mythologies are a bit jarring…)

  • http://heimaey.us/ jim morrissey

    I hope it’s in our lifetime. Sadly, I learned recently, that space is way too vast and not as empty as we think, so particles would destroy The Enterprise IRL even if we could achieve warp speed which is essentially magic at this point. Debbie downer I know, but who knows, maybe we will hit Warp 7 one day.

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