Can a single drop of blood reveal your risk for cancer, diabetes and other illnesses?
A single drop of blood could say a lot about your health risks
What if your smartphone could tell you a potential disease or illness is lurking inside your immune system? What if instead of contracting diabetes, you were able to stop it before it compromised your health — maybe even before you or your physician could see any outward signs?
This is the driving idea behind an international group of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs that may soon change the way we understand our health. And an Arizona State University discovery is central to the launch of this invention.
Lifesaving early detection
Using a single drop of blood, ImmunoSignature, a diagnostic testing platform developed by ASU Biodesign Institute research scientists Stephen Albert Johnston and Neal Woodbury, can detect many different types of diseases — autoimmune, cancer, infectious, metabolic and neurologic — by observing an individual’s set of antibodies in the immune system.
“My goal has always been to detect illness before it begins,” Johnston says. “In other words, I would like to see the concept of the ‘patient,’ that is, treating someone who is ill, become extinct. That is the only way we can truly stop the relentless increases in the cost of health care.”
Now the testing platform is part of the Shenzhen, China-based Digital Life Alliance. The goal is to create a personalized health guide to help consumers understand if the early stages of a disease or illness lingers in their immune system. To do so, the team is looking to detect disease signals by merging biological, genetic and patient-generated data with artificial intelligence and other information.
Digital Life Alliance consists of seven companies, including ASU technology spinoff HealthTell, which is bringing Johnston’s invention into the mix. The Digital Life Alliance is coordinated and funded by China’s iCarbonX, which has built the world’s largest DNA sequencing hub with the aim to make genomic information a routine part of every medical checkup.
Saving billions of dollars
It is estimated that the U.S. alone will spend $3.35 trillion for health care in 2017. Organizers say the groundbreaking diagnostic testing platform developed by ASU Biodesign Institute researchers could catch diseases early and result in mammoth cost savings while saving lives.
Some of the leading causes of death — both infectious and chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other neurologic disorders, diabetes, melanoma and other cancers — give rise to immune responses fairly early in the course of a disease.
According to Johnston, his technology’s high-density peptide array platform is the first real-time assessment that will be simple, inexpensive and comprehensive. The technology, particularly when combined with data from the other Digital Life Alliance partners, has the potential to enable health monitoring, using a single drop of blood analyzed on a regular basis.
“The idea is to change medicine from post-symptomatic to pre-symptomatic. To do that, you have to monitor healthy people and figure out early what’s happening to them,” says Johnston, who also directs the Biodesign Center for Innovations in Medicine, a team dedicated to big steps — disruptive thinking, technology and research that transforms the way we understand, diagnose and treat disease.
Johnston envisions Arizona as a research and development “proving ground,” a place dedicated to getting ahead of disease and its costs. He predicts the technology to track and report disease biomarkers directly to patients could be available within five years.
A proven testing technology
Johnston has already successfully demonstrated the potential of immunosignature profiling for diagnosing people suffering from more than 50 different diseases, including diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s. In addition, the versatile technology could be used to safeguard the security of our nation’s blood supply or give early warning of a disease epidemic.
“Just recently, we were able to use the technology to successfully detect chronic fatigue syndrome, which even I didn’t think was possible. Now there is a clinical trial underway in Norway based on these results,” Johnston adds.
The new Digital Life Alliance will further the business development growth of HealthTell, which has its manufacturing hub in Chandler, Arizona, as well as bring investments to spur additional research advancements at ASU’s Biodesign Institute through spinout agreements made possible by Arizona Technology Enterprises, the intellectual property arm of ASU.
A 2014 Seidman Research Institute report found the Biodesign Institute has generated an economic impact of $1.5 billion since it was established 10 years ago. Its annual direct economic impact is the highest for any single bioscience research institute in the state. Biodesign operations have created and supported more than 1,600 high‐paying jobs and generated $10.5 million in state and local tax revenues.
“Who could have imagined 10 years ago that with the right diagnostic, a single drop of blood could detect 50 different diseases?” says ASU President Michael Crow. “Scientists with expertise, imagination and boundless aspiration are who we recruit to Arizona, ASU and Biodesign. Today, we are being recognized as a powerhouse in the world of innovation and for generating use-inspired solutions.”
To fuel promising work like Johnston’s, ASU is emphasizing research and creativity as part of a major fundraising initiative, Campaign ASU 2020. One of the campaign’s objectives is to cultivate funding that advances research and discovery of public value through assets such as next-generation science facilities, entrepreneurship incubators, field research, advanced equipment and more.
Those who would like to advance science research through the campaign are free to make their gifts as specific or as broad as they like — directing their gift to Johnston’s work, the Biodesign Institute or to the university.
The development of the ImmunoSignature technology was funded in part by Arizona’s Technology Research Initiative Fund, the W.M. Keck Foundation, Breakthru Beverage Arizona, the Dorothy Foundation and a number of private philanthropists.
Johnston’s Biodesign Center for Innovations in Medicine is focused on extending the ImmunoSignature technology to new diseases and applications. His team is particularly interested in funding from investment philanthropists who would like to share the rewards for their investments.
Discover more about research efforts at the Biodesign Institute. Or, to learn how you can contribute to future research efforts through Campaign ASU 2020, contact Eric Spicer, director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit biodesign.asu.edu/get-involved/give-now.
Originally published at www.azcentral.com on March 16, 2017.