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Big Prize for Mini Medicine

The X Prize Foundation wants to entice scientists to start making medical diagnostics really small and portable. Last week it announced the 10 finalists for the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize challenge, all of whom are trying to devise a mobile consumer device that can diagnose 16 medical conditions and monitor five vital signs.

The competition was inspired by Star Trek's tricorder device, Douglas Heaven writes in New Scientist, which the Enterprise's doctor Leonard 'Bones' McCoy would wave over all sorts of wounded, sick, and burned people and find out what was wrong with them, or if they were improving.

Most of the international collection of winning teams have worked up systems based on existing technologies that involve wearable patches, handheld sensors, or laptop-sized diagnostic labs, Heaven writes.

Eugene Chan, of the DNA Medicine Institute, one of the finalist teams, says the biggest challenge is integrating miscellaneous devices into one "usable whole." One team, called Zensor, is using a miniature microspectroscopy lab using microfluidics to analyze blood samples and diagnose a range of conditions.

Another group, SCANurse, is using computer-vision techniques that analyzes images from inside the ears or throat.

Chan's group has shrunk down conventional test strips into 'nano strips' that perform all the tests it needs to using a single drop of blood.

"The more tests you can do on a single drop of blood, the better," Chan says.