MIT startup winner envisions wristworn, malaria diagnostic device

By Brian Dolan
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Disease Diagnostic GroupThis week the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hosted its MIT$100K entrepreneurship competition's finale event, where two health startups Disease Diagnostic Group (DDG) and RapidSOS took prizes. DDG, which has developed a reusable, magneto-optical malaria diagnostic test that patients can use themselves, took the grand prize and made out with about $145,000 in total prize money. RapidSOS, which is working with universities and municipalities to revamp emergency response with rich media tools, won the event's Audience Choice Award and won at least $17,000 throughout the competition.

"Half the people who have [malaria], don't know they have it," DDG CEO John Lewandoski, who is a PhD student at MIT, told the audience at the MIT$100K event. "For a completely curable disease, that's a serious problem. The good news is malaria parasites release a magnetic biomarker called hemozoin. We can manipulate that biomarker... [using magnets]... to get a quantitative estimate of the level of infection in that person's blood. We can do this over and over with this reusable test, which completely changes the business model for malaria testing."

Lewandowski said the device's battery lasts two weeks. Unlike most other malaria diagnostic devices, DDG's does not require refrigeration or any chemicals. Users simply provide a drop of water and a drop of their own blood.

"The device runs for 10 seconds and then you have a patient ID number and a score," he said. "That score is so important because it eliminates the need for any physician whatsoever. It tells us what, when, and for how long to prescribe medication to that patient."

Lewandowski said light miscroscopy and rapid diagnostic tests, which are the methods most other malaria test kits use, require refrigeration, are expensive, are slow, and require some clinical expertise. As a result DDG's device carries about one-tenth the cost of those types of tests and it is also more reliably accurate, according to the company.

DDG already has deals with the US Navy for a pilot in Peru that includes a $100,000 commitment and a $25,000 deal with Bosch Healthcare for India, where Bosch is interested in exclusive distribution rights, according to the startup. DDG has also held preliminary discussions with the Gates Foundation.

"Our vision is much greater and we want to take the technology much further," Lewandowski explained as he showed a mockup of a wristband version of the device. "A wristband that could be worn at all times... to perform unprecedented, unlimited diagnoses."

RapidSOSLewandowski said his team aims to ship 30,000,000 units by 2016 and to help 155 million by 2017.

RapidSOS, which won the competition's Audience Choice Award ($2,000) as well as the Products and Services Track ($15,000), aims to transform two to three minute 911 calls into a three second push of a button. The company is already working with 69 universities and municipalities across the US to help them modernize the way they reach their communities during times of crisis -- like school shootings or natural disasters. RapidSOS pointed out as part of its pitch that many 911 dispatch centers have trouble locating calls from cell phones, which often do not provide accurate location data -- or any location information -- for callers.

Among RapidSOS' offerings is One Touch 911, which sends emergency details and medical condition information -- like allergies or medications -- to first responders as part of an emergency call for help. The company also helps municipalities geotarget specific areas with text message-like warnings that are only sent to people who are actually in that part of town. RapidSOS has also developed a See Something Say Something application that helps people send geo-pegged images and videos to first responders.

The MIT$100K competition's Managing Director Gino Korolev told MobiHealthNews that, as in years past, this year's entrants included a number of health-related startups.

"MIT $100K has a long history of life science, medical device and consumer electronics innovations," Korolev said. "This year was no exception -- among the [health-related] ventures were those targeting malaria diagnostics, battlefield wound management, improved catheter-based interventions, newborn health monitoring, skin cancer diagnostics, and more."