The Internet of Life: Transforming Healthcare

By Sophie Curtis on August 18, 2015

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Just as the internet has revolutionised how we share information, the Internet of Life will transform our healthcare systems globally. 

In response to the growing threat of emerging infections and drug resistant ‘superbugs’, QuantuMDx is digitizing biology to share pathogen data on a never-before-seen scale. This technology leap will enable healthcare workers to prevent pandemics via rapid identification of novel infections in the field, and will create a cloud-based monitoring system to map the global spread of disease and drug resistance.

Elaine Warburton is CEO and Co-founder of QuantuMDx, one of the most exciting biotech companies to emerge onto the ‘precision medicine’ global stage, developing a low cost handheld molecular lab with inbuilt DNA sequencing to help address humanitarian health challenges in both developed and developing nations. We caught up with her ahead of her presentation at RE.WORK Future Technology Summit next month to hear more about QuantuMDx and her thoughts on the future of medical technologies.

Tell us about QuantuMDx and your work in progressing diagnostics.
QuantuMDx is a medical device developer headquartered in Newcastle upon Tyne, with offices also in the United States and Singapore. Our flagship product will be Q-POC™, a handheld DNA analyser that will diagnose disease in less than 20 minutes for a few pounds at the patient’s side. Our aim with Q-POC is to empower overburdened healthcare systems worldwide with gold standard molecular diagnostics at a fraction of the cost of traditional testing.

One of Q-POC’s many unique features is its ability to run many tests simultaneously, thereby making it possible to test for many diseases at one time. This eliminates iterative testing, saving time and money for both patient and healthcare system. Earlier diagnosis will also improve patient outcome for many diseases. Globally distributed Q-POC™ devices will be able to geotag and anonymise pathogen data, and send it to the cloud for real-time disease and drug resistance monitoring. Just as the internet has revolutionised how we share information, this global surveillance system will transform the way we share genomic data. The data collected by Q-POC™ will be used to monitor the spread of antimicrobial resistance, detect and contain a novel disease outbreak, and identify suitable targets for drug development.

Why did you decide to develop the world’s first molecular lab with in-built sequencing and what problems are you working to solve?
I started my career in nursing when nursing skills were integrated with medical school theory, management and business skills. I loved my time on the wards, it really was a case of life and death at all times. But I often got frustrated at the minutiae of running a ward. Test results took hours, sometimes days to come through and there were sample mix-ups, samples lost and samples sent to the wrong wards. When test results were returned they could come back conflicting or inaccurate. It was chaos, but out of chaos came innovation and the seeds of how to revolutionise medicine had germinated in my mind.

Many years later when I was Business Development and Marketing Director for The London Clinic in Harley Street, London, I received a letter from Jonathan O’Halloran introducing his molecular diagnostics plan, after spending years in Africa observing the fight against disease and the emerging threat of drug resistance, Jonathan had a vision for a better diagnostic tool for both monitoring and preventing disease outbreak and spread. I knew genetics had come of age and that it was the right time to begin introducing genetic testing into mainstream medicine. In 2008 myself and Jonathan, alongside my husband Julian, created QuantuMDx with the goal that we would empower healthworkers across the globe with a fast, accurate and affordable gold-standard molecular diagnostic device.

What is the biggest obstacle to integrating your technological development into industry and society?
The biggest obstacle to integrating our technology into industry and society will be creating a change in the way physicians view diagnostics and encouraging them to adopt Q-POC™ into their daily workflow. Across the globe communities do not have access to the same standards of diagnostics that we are so lucky to have in the UK. However, even in the UK test results can be slow, inaccurate or inconclusive. We need to communicate and demonstrate how game-changing Q-POC™ will be to these communities but also ensure that the device fits the needs of those communities, from a remote African village, an airport departure gate, to a downtown hospital. We are working with partners, clinicians and healthworkers to ensure that Q-POC™ will meet the needs of the communities we want to positively impact across the globe.

What will be the key skills/jobs required in the future for your sector?
Being able to think creatively is one of the most important factors, if we accepted the status quo at QuantuMDx, Q-POC™ wouldn’t exist and we wouldn’t be pushing the boundaries of science and medical diagnostics in the ways we currently are.

Which areas of rapidly advancing technologies do you feel could benefit from cross-industry collaboration?
Big data is a very new and incredibly fast-growing industry that, as the size of data collected increases exponentially from the huge range of technologies in our life, will give us the tools we need to process and make sense of the data collected.

What emerging tech are you most excited about?
There is an ever-growing interest to quantify one’s self using technologies such as the FitBit. I recently went one step further and had a fascinating genetic screen called the p450, to determine which pharmaceutical drugs my body can process. Personalised medicine based on your DNA – is there anything more exciting?

Elaine Warburton will be speaking at the Future Technology Summit in London on 24-25 September. Other medtech speakers include Sabine Hauert, Lecturer in Swarm Robotics, University of Bristol; Juan Moreno, Head of the Human Locomotion Laboratory, Cajal Institute; and Stephen Dunne, Director Neuroscience Research, Starlab.

The Future Technology Summit is taking place alongside the Deep Learning Summit For more information and to register, please visit the event website here.

Big Data Cloud Computing IoT Connected Devices Mobile Devices Wearables Healthcare MedTech Future Technology Summit Women in Tech


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