Diagnostics For All and their paper microfluidic liver tests were featured yesterday in the New York Times as part of its “Small Fixes” series. The series focuses on low-cost innovations for the developing world. A few themes:
- Evolution from academic to commercial design: “Originally, Dr. Whitesides used a plastic that hardened in ultraviolet light, but wax is cheaper and faster.” This is a theme we’ve heard from other startups — the team must successfully adapt the initial proof-of-concept design to make it more manufacturable.
- Unmet need for lower-cost lab instrumentation: “Reagents are spotted on by hand with a pipette — a tedious job, but the $100,000 machine that can automate it is not in the budget…” Is it possible to create lower-cost spotting machines akin to desktop inkjet printers? If so, is there enough of a market for them?
- How low can we go?: How low do costs have to be for developing countries? While paper may be the cheapest substrate, what about the cost of reagents? (the article says one of the next steps is to move into immunoassay-based tests that would use [presumably expensive] antibodies) Also, in this article they put down plastics as being too expensive for developing countries. But what about the many companies making plastic chips for global health? How does cost-per-chip depend on the particular country or disease indication/use?
- Additional markets in the G7: Dr. Ryan mentions potential additional markets in the G7 (marathon runners testing electrolyte balance, or patients on statins testing for liver damage). This is another theme we’ve heard from global health startups — many of these innovations have potential value in lucrative G7 markets that could help offset the challenges of cost-constrained markets in the developing world.
- Room for more innovation: According to George Whitesides, “…we’re still a long way from getting to the end of what’s inventable.” Looking forward to new inventions in this area and their potential impact on world health!
Check out the full article here (and make sure to see the short video which shows the test in action, from fingerprick to color spot on the chip): Far From Any Lab, Paper Bits Find Illness