One Drop of Blood, Unlimited Potential

By Melissa Guay
April 8, 2014
General Foundation

Elizabeth Holmes took a huge risk when she dropped out of Stanford to start her own company, but it was a risk worth taking. 

The 30-year old Holmes is the founder of Theranos, a company that is influencing the way lab testing is done. Her company has invented a technology that can run 30 lab tests on a single drop of blood—at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional blood tests. 

Test results are electronically delivered to both patient and doctor in less than four hours (in most cases). The prices are listed up front, with tests starting at $1.55—with most under $10.00. This allows even those without health insurance to afford lab testing, which in turns helps with detecting diseases and irregularities, and allowing for lifesaving treatment.  If all lab testing was done at Theranos’ rates, it is estimated that Medicare and Medicaid (combined) would save more than $200 billion over the next 10 years. 

What’s more, Theranos’ testing method—using the prick of a finger and a single drop of blood—is more accurate than traditional methods that use an entire vial. Why? Ninety-three percent of errors in a test result come from pre-analytical processing, the part of the process where humans handle the sample. Theranos' process minimizes human handling and thus increases accuracy. 

In addition to the benefits that stem from rapid results, low prices, and precision, doctors and patients are given unique access to the results. Theranos has a secure digital network that puts the data into graphs to better visualize what the results mean. Patients will be able to see exactly where their past levels are currently.

Bringing doctors and patients access to lab data fulfills Theranos’ mission to “make actionable health information accessible to people everywhere in the world at the time it matters, enabling early detection and intervention of disease, and empowering individuals with information to live the lives they want to live.” 

Because testing is simple and affordable, lab tests can be run more often, increasing the amount of data available. Doctors will be able to compare results and look at trends that appear over time, coming to conclusions that could not be a reached by looking at a single set of test results, catching diseases early and saving more lives. 

In 2013, Theranos partnered with Walgreens to bring the technology to consumers. The first Theranos Wellness Center opened inside of a Palo Alto Walgreens in September of 2013, and more opened in Phoenix in November. Because Walgreens is the largest drug retail chain in the United States, the partnership will allow Theranos to reach a lot of people. 

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New technologies with the ability to revolutionize the medical fields seem to be emerging everywhere lately.   

Second Sight, a medical device company dedicated to helping the blind achieve greater independence, has gained the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2013 for the first “bionic eye.” It is a retinal implant for those with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that often causes blindness, and gives limited vision to those who were previously completely blind. It doesn’t bring anywhere near perfect vision, but is a huge step towards helping the blind see. 

Another new technology recently gained pre-market FDA approval. The RNS System, designed to treat epilepsy and developed by NeuroPace, Inc., is a battery-powered device implanted into the brain that detects when seizures are about to occur and stops them before they happen through electrical stimulation. This device could improve the quality of life of approximately 400,000 people in the United States alone and potentially allow them to live seizure-free. 

The technologies are there. Now all we need is for them to be utilized to their full potential to save lives, make the lives of those affected by disease much easier, and enable patients to take control of their own health.