In what sounds a gadget straight from the Jetsons universe, a Canadian inventor believes he’s developed a device that allows users to test for infections and illness right from their own home.
Dr. Paul Lem, creator of the Spartan Cube, initially started his company – Spartan Bioscience – in 2005 with his brother John and Dr. Jamie Spiegelman. The company’s M.O. was simple: make Dr. Lem’s vision, a reality.
The cube is essentially a mini-DNA analyzer no bigger than a small cup of coffee, and can rest comfortably in a user’s hand.
A cheek swab from the user is put into the cartridge on top of the cube. The cube’s internal hardware takes over from there, and it’s a fascinating process, even if you don’t understand every aspect of the technological heights squeezed into the small cube.
The hardware cracks the cells from the swab open, releasing the DNA, and creates billions of copies. The copies are hit with a fluorescent light that examines the sample, determining if the user is harbouring a disease or infection.
The results from the cube are sent to a laptop or tablet for doctors or patients to analyze in minutes.
“I think this is really going to change the way we treat our patients,” said Spiegelman. “Tests like this are really the future of medicine.”
Remember when we said it was straight out of the Jetsons? Fiction did play a role in Lem’s inspiration to create the Spartan Cube, though it wasn’t the animated space cartoon – but the uber-popular Star Trek series. Lem recalls his fascination with the ubiquitous Tricorder, which scans a person and immediately provides a diagnosis.
Alongside that, Lem witnessed a cancer patient wait an entire month just to find out what drug they needed for treatment. It made his focus clear, and he set about creating a device that would cut down that wait time significantly.
“We get instant email, instant communication and so why should it be that lab results should take that long to get back to you?” said Lem.
Heart specialists in Ottawa are currently testing the device, seeing if it can cut the seven-day genetic test time down, a test used to prescribe the correct blood thinner. Rather than seven days, they’re hoping the Spartan Cube can expedite the process in seven minutes.
“We are able to test this technology and prove that, in the context of real patients, we can identify the gene and then pick the right drug for the right patient,” said Dr. Derek So, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.
Eventually, the goal is to make the Spartan Cube a device for home use, which people can employ for their own testing.
“When I am 80 years old, I want to look back at whatever I have picked and say, ‘Those were years that were really worthwhile, I worked on something that really mattered,'” Lem said.