2014-08-15

This Smartphone-Connected Device Will One Day Quickly Detect Your STDs

A mobile DNA lab could one day cost the same as an electric razor.

The doctor suspects you have Lyme disease, but the time it would take to get blood-test results back from the lab might be time better spent taking antibiotics. A suspicious powder shows up on the doorstep of a government office, and it needs to be identified immediately. A team of investigators is having a tough time determining a victim's time of death at a crime scene. These are all possible future applications for Biomeme's smartphone-connected mobile DNA lab.

Biomeme, a company that launched two years ago, has a 10-person team working out of Philadelphia (the company spent two years at Philadelphia's University City Science Center) on giving the capabilities of full molecular diagnostics central lab to anyone, according to co-founder Max Perelman. The company has created a mobile version of a real-time qPCR thermocycler, a fancy lab gadget that amplifies small amounts of DNA so they become more detectable ("Like a targeted photocopy machine for DNA," says Perelman).

Putting those chunks of DNA through a PCR machine can detect specific things based on their DNA signature. Biomeme's first internally developed test, for example, looks for the DNA signatures of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. "We can make a diagnosis in real-time on the phone," says Perelman.

The key to Biomeme's technology is the smartphone. To get a reading, you just put a smartphone inside the mobile PCR machine, open up a foil pouch containing a test (like the aforementioned STD test), do some test prep (collecting urine, fecal matter, or just a swab), and put the sample--inside the pouch-- on top of the machine's docking station. In 35 to 40 minutes, you'll have answers.

Biomeme is still in the relatively early stages of development; the company has determined that its prototypes meet the gold standard of lab testing, and now it's moving towards commercialization. In addition to an STD panel, the PCR machine will launch with a number of partner-developed tests.

No word on pricing yet, but Perelman hopes to eventually sell the device for about the same price as an electric razor or toothbrush.

A number of investors have backed the company, including entrepreneur Mark Cuban. His interest in investing in the company, he writes in an email, was originally centered around the health of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks (Cuban owns the team). "I want to be able to do a complete analysis as often and as painless as possible," he writes. "Right now Biomeme checks for diseases, but what they can check for will expand considerably over time. The more we know about our health the more proactive we can be in protecting it for the Mavs and the general population."

Eventually, Biomeme's technology could be used by the general public. Perelman speculates that schools could be ideal customers if they develop curricula around the technology. "This opens up markets no one has dreamed of," he says.

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