8.28.2017

Athelas is an at-home blood testing device made for cancer patients

Athelas is launching a low-cost, blood diagnostics device today made for testing certain diseases like the flu, bacterial infections and cancer in the comfort of your home.

Tanay Tandon founded the startup in 2014 at the tender age of 17 to develop a smartphone device that could detect malaria through blood samples. That idea proved difficult but the idea of ease and mobility stuck with him.

Athelas’ new device, which looks like a larger version of an Amazon Echo, is meant for patients to check their blood diagnostics in the comfort of their home.

However, instead of giving it voice commands and getting answers, you stick a slide with your blood on it inside the device to find out if your white blood cell count is off. This is particularly useful for discovering infections and inflammation in the body, and could be helpful to those with cancer.

Tandon and his co-founder Deepika Bodapati, have backgrounds in computer vision, machine learning and molecular imaging and were part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2016 class.

(We spoke to Bodapati in the TechCrunch studios about the device and I tested it out on myself just to get a good sense of how it works. Check out the video above for that interview.)

The core business model is built on working with oncologists who loan the device out to patients while they are on a regimen. This saves them time and the hassle of needing to go into a lab or doctor’s office and give a blood sample as they can simply do the blood test at home every day.

Touted as a simple blood test for anyone, anywhere, the device uses computer imaging to run rapid blood diagnostics from one drop of a patient’s blood and then delivers results in 50 seconds through the corresponding Athelas app (on both Android and iOS).

From there information can be sent back to the doctor to check on important markers indicating whether a treatment is working or not.

One drop blood diagnostics tends to conjure up Theranos PTSD but Athelas is quite the opposite. The Athelas team comes with medical expertise and have already clinically validated the device’s results. The startup has also published their tests against LabCorp venous counts and in bench studies at Stanford University. The device is also FDA-approved under a class 1 registration, meaning it can be used for imaging diagnostics.

The device is useful beyond cancer monitoring, including determining if you have a viral or bacterial infection and possible prediction of cardiac arrest.

“There’s a lot of research out there that shows inflammatory markers inside your own body will spike a couple days in advance,” Tandon says.

Athelas is currently studying 100 patients at risk for a cardiac event to determine if the machine can tell if they are about to go through such an event a few days before,

Right now, Athelas is marketing the device for at-home use but plans on implementing it in hospitals for triage. It’s already working with hospitals and, though not ready to announce, has formed a few partnerships with drug companies as well.

“One of our goals is to become a companion diagnostic for a lot of these interesting drugs,” Tandon told TechCrunch.

The startup has so far raised $3.7 million in seed, led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from Initialized Capital, Joe Montana’s Liquid2, as well as a good roster of recognizable angels like Elad Gil.

Those interested in purchasing the device for at-home use can either go through a doctor’s recommendation or buy directly on the Athelas site for a subscription of $20 per month.

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