Using animal blood, the researchers hope to improve the accuracy of AI driven diagnostic technology
What does a cheetah, a tortoise, and a Humboldt penguin have
in common? They are zoo animals helping scientists at Saarland University in
Saarbrücken, Germany, find biomarkers that can help computer-assisted diagnoses
of diseases in humans at early stages. And they are not the only animals
lending a paw or claw.
In their initial research, the scientists used blood samples
that had been collected during routine examinations of 21 zoo animals between
2016 and 2018, said a news
release. The team of bioinformatics
and human genetics experts
worked with German zoos Saarbrücken and Neunkircher for the study. The project
progresses, and thus far, they’ve studied the blood of 40 zoo animals, the
This research work may eventually add useful biomarkers and
assays that clinical
laboratories can use to support physicians as they diagnose patients,
select appropriate therapies, and monitor the progress of their patients. As medical
laboratory scientists know, for many decades, the animal kingdom has been
the source of useful insights and biological materials that have been
incorporated into laboratory assays.
“Measuring the molecular blood profiles of animals has never
been done before this way,” said Andreas
Keller, PhD, Saarland University Bioinformatics Professor and Chair for
Clinical Bioinformatics, in the news release. The Saarland researchers published
their findings in Nucleic Acids
Research, an Oxford
“Studies on sncRNAs [small non-coding RNAs] are often largely based on homology-based information, relying on genomic sequence similarity and excluding actual expression data. To obtain information on sncRNA expression (including miRNAs, snoRNAs, YRNAs and tRNAs), we performed low-input-volume next-generation sequencing of 500 pg of RNA from 21 animals at two German zoological gardens,” the article states.
Can Animals Improve the Accuracy of AI to Detect Disease
However, the researchers perceived an inability for AI and machine learning to
discern real biomarker patterns from those that just seemed to fit.
“The machine learning methods recognize the typical
patterns, for example for a lung tumor or Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is
difficult for artificial intelligence to learn which biomarker patterns are
real and which only seem to fit the respective clinical picture. This is where
the blood samples of the animals come into play,” Keller states in the news
“If a biomarker is evolutionarily conserved, i.e. also
occurs in other species in similar form and function, it is much more likely
that it is a resilient biomarker,” Keller explained. “The new findings are now
being incorporated into our computer models and will help us to identify the
correct biomarkers even more precisely in the future.”
“Because blood can be obtained in a standardized manner and
miRNA expression patterns are technically very stable, it is easy to accurately
compare expression between different animal species. In particular, dried blood
spots or microsampling devices appear to be well suited as containers for
miRNAs,” the researchers wrote in Nucleic Acids Research.
Animal species that participated in the study include:
Additionally, human volunteers contributed blood specimens
for a total of 19 species studied. The scientists reported success in capturing
data from all of the species. They are integrating the information into their
computer models and have developed a public database of their
findings for future research.
“With our study, we provide a large collection of small RNA
NGS expression data of species that have not been analyzed before in great
detail. We created a comprehensive publicly available online resource for
researchers in the field to facilitate the assessment of evolutionarily
conserved small RNA sequences,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
Clinical Laboratory Research and Zoos: A Future
This novel involvement of zoo animals in research aimed at improving
the ability of AI driven diagnostics to isolate and identify human disease is
notable and worth watching. It is obviously pioneering work and needs much
additional research. At the same time, these findings give evidence that there
is useful information to be extracted from a wide range of unlikely sources—in
this case, zoo animals.
Also, the use of artificial intelligence to search for
useful patterns in the data is a notable part of what these researchers
discovered. It is also notable that this research is focused on sequencing DNA
and RNA of the animals involved with the goal of identifying sequences that are
common across several species, thus demonstrating the common, important
functions they serve.
In coming years, those clinical laboratories doing genetic
testing in support of patient care may be incorporating some of this research
group’s findings into their interpretation of certain gene sequences.
If direct-to-consumer testing continues to attract healthcare consumers and financial investors, medical laboratories could have a new source of revenue
Many have tried but few have found the right formula to
offer medical laboratory tests directly to consumers. Direct-to-consumer lab
testing as a robust business model has been an elusive goal. But now one
entrepreneur wants to crack this market and just attracted $50 million in
venture capital to fund her idea!
Outsiders often establish industries. This was the case when Jeff Bezos created Amazon in 1994. The online retailer transformed the way books were sold and, subsequently, established a massive new retail market.
Along the same lines, Julia Taylor Cheek, Founder and CEO of EverlyWell, a well-financed digital health company based in Austin—hopes to build a similarly disruptive business in the clinical laboratory industry.
Cheek is increasing her company’s outreach to consumers by
putting some of the company’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) medical tests on store
shelves at CVS and Target.
A former consultant and Harvard Business School graduate, Cheek raised $50 million in financing to expand EverlyWell’s digital platform. According to a news release, “Just two full years into operation, EverlyWell is reporting 300% year-over-year customer growth and a world-class consumer Net Promoter Score (NPS).”
“I think it’s a representation of sexism in our space. There are 15 other companies that have popped up in blood testing and you don’t hear anyone comparing Theranos to those male-founded startups,” she told Inc.
However, Dark Daily believes Cheek may be missing one
basis for the comparison with Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes intended for Theranos to
serve consumers with lab testing, and let consumers order and purchase their
own medical laboratory tests. Cheek is talking about the same primary business
strategy of letting consumers purchase their own lab tests.
Armed with this additional financing from investors, EverlyWell intends to expand services and develop new partnerships with retail pharmacy chain CVS Health (NYSE:CVS) and for-profit insurance company Humana (NYSE:HUM).
The news release notes, “The company has also expanded its
product line to offer 35 panels, including first-to-market tests in fertility,
vitamins, peri- and post-menopause, and high-risk HPV. In addition, EverlyWell
has launched an end-to-end care model for consumers, now offering an
independent physician consult and prescription, if appropriate, for select STDs
and Lyme Disease testing. All of this is included in an upfront price before
EverlyWell Intent on
Bringing Medical Laboratory Tests to Retail
Earlier this year, EverlyWell made nine lab tests available in more than 1,600 Target store locations, MedCity News reported. This may suggest that retailers are intrigued with direct-to-consumer lab testing.
Cheek reportedly established EverlyWell after becoming
disenchanted with medical laboratory tests that she felt were not well
explained and too costly under high-deductible health plans.
Just two years on, EverlyWell reports “hundreds of thousands of customers and tens of millions in sales.” The company plans to add additional staff on top of its existing 70 employees in anticipation of the new funding, Austin Business Journal reports.
“We are building a consumer brand, which means we have to be where people shop. We need to be in places like CVS and Target to really allow for broader distribution and name recognition,” Cheek told the Austin American-Statesman.
What Draws People to EverlyWell?
EverlyWell offers home health test kits, priced from $49 to
$400 that people can order without a doctor’s prescription and pay for online. Users
take their samples (saliva, urine, or a pinprick of blood) with provided
lancets and cotton swabs, MedCity News
EverlyWell’s top selling tests are:
Vitamin D deficiency-$99.
EverlyWell says it is “first” in direct-to-consumer tests
EverlyWell Test kits come with registration information, instructions, collection tools;
Biological samples are sent by consumers to CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments)-certified labs that partner with EverlyWell;
Results are generally completed within 10 days depending on type of test and business volume;
A physician reviews the test results;
Reports on test results are electronically accessible through smartphone apps and online web dashboards.
“Lab testing is arguably one of the most important steps in preventing and managing illness but has been largely ignored by digital health companies. EverlyWell is successfully navigating an entrenched industry to offer consumers an opportunity to take charge of their own health,” said Eric Kim, Managing Partner at Goodwater Capital (which led the financing), in the news release.
“We’re building the definitive technology-enabled healthcare platform that consumers deserve and have already come to expect in other areas of their lives,” Cheek told VentureBeat. “As high-deductible plans become the norm, consumers are becoming discerning buyers who look for seamless, digitally enabled experiences.”
Of course, pathologists and medical laboratory professionals
will watch to see if EverlyWell can sustain its rapid rise in popularity with
healthcare consumers. In particular, those consumers who prefer DTC testing
over traditional clinical laboratory visits and who may be on high-deductible
The DTC test market represents an opportunity that most
clinical laboratories have yet to take seriously. There are many reasons why
medical lab managers and pathologists would be taking a “wait and see”
attitude. Meanwhile, EverlyWell has $50 million of investors’ money to use to
demonstrate the financial viability of its strategy to encourage consumers to purchase
their own clinical laboratory tests—and even collect their own specimens at
Clinical laboratory leaders aiming for patient-centered care and precision medicine outcomes need to acknowledge that patients do not want to be in hospitals or travel to physician offices and patient care centers for blood tests. It can be inconvenient, sometimes costly, and often painful.
That’s why disease management methods such as remote patient monitoring are appealing to many people. It’s a big market estimated to reach $1 billion by 2020, according to a Transparency MarketResearch Report. The study also associated popularity of devices such as heart rate and respiratory rate monitors with economic pressures of unnecessary hospital readmissions.
But can remote patient monitoring be used for more than to check heart rates, monitor blood glucose, and track activity levels? Could such technology be effectively leveraged by medical laboratories for remote blood sampling?
Microsampling versus Dried Blood Collecting
Remote patient monitoring must be able to address a large number of diseases and chronic health conditions for it to continue to expand and gain acceptance as a viable way to care for patients in different settings outside of hospitals. However, as most clinical pathologists and laboratory scientists know, clinical laboratory testing has an essential role in patient monitoring. Thus, there is the need for a way to collect blood and other relevant samples from patients in these remote settings.
One promising approach is the development of new microsampling technology that can overcome past obstacles of dried blood collection. Furthermore, microsampling-enabled devices can make it possible for medical laboratories to reach out to the homebound to secure accurate and volumetrically appropriate samples in a cost-effective manner.
“One well-established fact in today’s healthcare system is that an ever-greater proportion of patients want clinical care that is less invasive and less intrusive,” noted Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and The Dark Report. “Patients want to take more control over their treatment and be more effective at maintaining the stability of their chronic conditions, and often are happier than those who need to travel to have chronic conditions monitored. To meet this need there has been significant innovation, particularly in the area of remote blood sampling using microsampling technology.”
For decades, medical laboratories have tried various methods for acquiring and transporting blood samples from remote locations. One such non-invasive alternative to venipuncture is called dried blood spot (DBS) collecting. It involves placing a fingerprick of blood on filter paper and allowing it to dry prior to transport to the lab.
But DBS collected bio samples often do not contain enough hematocrit (volume percentage of red blood cells) for laboratories and clinical pathologists to provide accurate reports and interpretations. Reported reasons DBS cards have not penetrated a wide market include:
Hematocrit bias or effect;
Costly card punching and automation equipment; and,
Possible disruption to existing lab workflows.
Microsampling Technology Enables Collection of Appropriate Samples
Microsampling has to have the capability to enable labs to deliver quality results from reliable blood samples. This remote sampling technology makes it possible for phlebotomists to offer a comfortable collection alternative for homebound patients and rural residents. It also can be useful for physicians stationed in remote areas. Patients themselves can even collect their own blood samples.
Volumetric Absorptive Microsampling (VAMS) technology enables accurate samples of blood or other fluids from amounts as small as 10, 20, or 30 microliters, according to Neoteryx, LLC, of Torrance, Calif., the developer of VAMS. The technology is integrated into the company’s Mitra microsampler blood collection devices (shown above) in formats for patient use and for medical laboratory microsample accessioning and extraction. Click here to watch a video on the Mitra Microsampler Specimen Collection Device. (Photo copyright: Neoteryx.)
One company developing these types of products is Neoteryx, LLC, of Torrance, Calif. It develops, manufactures, and distributes microsampling products. Patients with the company’s Mitra device use a lancet to puncture their skin and draw a small amount of blood, collect it on the device’s absorptive tip, and then mail the samples to a blood lab for testing (Neoteryx does not perform testing).
“Technologies such VAMS are driving [precision medicine] in an extremely cost-effective manner, while only requiring minimal patient effort. Patients are taking a more active role in their healthcare journeys, and at-home sampling is supporting this shift,” stated Fasha Mahjoor, Chief Executive Officer, Neoteryx, in a blog post. (Photo copyright: Neoteryx.)
Advantages of Microsampling
Patient satisfaction survey data collected by Neoteryx suggest patients are comfortable with their role in blood collection:
70% are comfortable or very comfortable with the process;
86% say it is easy or very easy to use the Mitra device;
92% report it is easy to capture blood on the device’s tip;
55% of Mitra device users are likely or very likely to choose microsampling over traditional venipuncture; and,
93% noted they are likely or very likely to choose the device for child care.
A list of published studies describes certain advantages of VAMS technology that have implications for medical laboratories and clinical pathologists:
Microsampling has benefits and implications for therapeutic drug monitoring, infectious disease research, and remote specimen collection;
Dried blood microsamples from fingerstick can generate reliable data “correlating” to traditional blood collection processes;
Bioanalytical data collected with the Mitra device are accurate and dependable; and,
In a study for a panel of anti-epileptic drugs, VAMS led to optimized extraction efficiency above 86%, which means there was no hematocrit bias.
Learn More by Requesting the Dark Daily Microsampling White Paper
Rise of patient-centered care and remote patient monitoring;
Dried blood collection over the years and the hematocrit effect;
A look at microsampling and how it takes blood collection out of the clinic;
How Volumetric Absorptive Microsampling (VAMS) technology works;
Patient satisfaction data;
Research about microsampling including extensive graphics;
Launching new VAMS technology; and,
Frequently asked questions.
Innovative medical laboratory leaders who want to increase their understanding of how microsampling technology and remote patient monitoring relates to the goal of becoming a patient-centered lab are encouraged to request a copy of the white paper. It can be downloaded at no cost by clicking here, or placing https://www.darkdaily.com/how-to-create-a-patient-centered-lab-with-breakthrough-blood-collection-technology-9-2018/ into your browser.