Coming Soon: $10M 'Tricorder' X Prize For Self-Diagnosis

Jim, I' m a doctor, not a device developer!
Jim, I' m a doctor, not a device developer!

Remember how in Star Trek, Dr. McCoy could point his tricorder at things and magically — oops, I mean, "scientifically" — determine all kinds of chemical components and medical diagnoses?

The X Prize Foundation — best known for offering prizes for space flight and cheap genome decoding — is about to put up $10 million for the invention of a medical device in the spirit of that tricorder: It must be able to diagnose 15 common medical conditions within three days, with no intervention from a health care professional.

Eileen Bartholomew, the foundation's senior director of life sciences prize development, spoke today at the Center for Connected Health symposium in Boston, and said the tricorder prize is expected to be officially launched in 2012.

She offers some rough guidelines in the video below, including examples of the conditions it should be able to diagnose, from hypertension to sleep apnea. The prize, underwritten by Qualcomm, was first previewed in May — here's the announcement — but the details have taken more shape since then. The contest could last about three years, Eileen said.

An interesting twist: Did you ever think about the tricorder as a tool for patient empowerment? That seems to be part of the X-Prize idea: The real-life tricorder isn't meant for latter-day Dr. McCoys, it's meant for patients, for us. If it can be developed, each of us could unleash our inner Bones...

This program aired on October 20, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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