BGN Technologies, the technology arm of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, is developing a $5 device that can diagnose dengue fever and stroke symptoms. The device is being created in collaboration with Singapore-based firm Biosensorix.
The joint development is a biosensor that can detect the composition of chemicals in the blood to diagnose diseases within minutes, eliminating the need to send blood and tissues samples to the lab.
Immunosensors or biosensors are medical devices that measure the levels of chemicals in the bloodstream by detecting the electrical currents created due to interaction between enzymes. Based on the presence and quantity of specific chemicals, medical staff can determine the existence and severity of a disease.
While several kits exist in the market today that can be used at home or in clinics to diagnose diseases, the new kit is a “breakthrough” because it can quickly measure the level of a biomarker very cheaply, said Luka Fajs, CEO of Biosensorix.
“We are trying to decentralize medicine by allowing patients to test themselves at home and receive immediate test results at a very low cost to healthcare providers, eliminating the need for lab testing,” said Fajs.
The kit can diagnose dengue fever, a disease caused by a virus transmitted from mosquitoes most commonly found in Southeast Asia and South America. The quick diagnosis enables medical staff to start treating patients without needing to wait for lab results, the company says.
Currently in advanced prototype stage, the kit is made up of two components: a USB stick-like blood-testing strip which the patients use by pricking their finger to collect blood samples, and a second device that looks like an iPhone, into which they insert the USB with the blood sample to analyze its chemical composition.
“Most people with dengue fever can be released to home care, yet are kept at the hospital until results come in,” said Robert Marks, professor at the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering at BGU and co-founder of Biosensorix. “With the new diagnostic kit, the physician can release the patient within half an hour, saving time and money.”
A second kit currently under development can provide information that would help prevent stroke and detect the possibility of a secondary stroke, which often occurs after the patient is released from the hospital, he said.
The diagnosis of a stroke — a condition caused by a blood clot that plugs blood vessels in the brain and prevents the flow of blood, resulting in the loss of brain cells within minutes — currently relies largely on clinical assessments and imaging procedures like MRIs.
The device, which can be used at home, has two applications for stroke. It can help prevent the occurrence of stroke by monitoring the patient’s blood chemistry on a weekly basis and providing risk assessments quickly, within 15 minutes, compared with lab testing which can take days or weeks, said Fajs.
A second advantage is that in emergency situations, it provides medical professionals with valuable and timely information they can use to not only to speed up the process of diagnosis but also determine the best course of action.
“With a stroke, every minute counts. A quick quantitative test means rapid diagnosis that is necessary for accurate, timely treatment. This can save brain functions and even lives,” said Ora Horovitz, senior VP Business Development at BGN Technologies
The collaboration between the university and Biosensorix was born as part of the Singapore-Israel NRF CREATE program, which was founded in 2015 to fund research proposals based on cooperation between Israeli and Singaporean researchers.
Nearly $1 million in funding was provided by the Singapore government for the project.
“We received a boost of funding from Singapore which furthered the development of the intellectual property,” said Marks. “Singapore has an excellent infrastructure and is very much interested in developing startups, and we took advantage of these opportunities.”
The multinational partnership has paved the way for Israeli researchers to develop medical technologies for diseases that are not native to the local market, such a dengue fever. These developments can later be scaled to large markets like Southeast Asia and South America, where the condition has a much larger prevalence, Marks said.
In recent years, an increasing number of giant tech companies like Google and Apple have made forays into the healthcare sector; the market in the US alone is estimated to be $3 trillion a year. As these healthcare platforms grow, they will need to rely on data gleaned from the smaller device manufacturers, said Fajs.
In 2015, Google Ventures, the investment arm of Alphabet Inc., was ranked as one of the leading investors in digital health, with nearly 31 percent of the company’s investment dollars spent on healthcare technologies, according to Bloomberg.
Apple announced last month that its iOS 11.3 update includes a beta version of its Health app that will allow iPhone users to store and share their medical records from a range of healthcare systems in the US. Twelve hospitals and clinics have partnered with Apple for the pilot, including John Hopkins Medicine, Cedars-Sinai, and Penn Medicine.
Currently in the pre-series A funding stage, Biosensorix plans to introduce the devices to larger markets within two years after completing the initial manufacturing phase and receiving formal FDA approval, the company said.