Biology, Tech

The problem with the infamous Theranos technology.

Theranos, was a startup company worth more than 10 billion dollars. A few years later, it is known as one of the biggest frauds. How did this happen, and why didn’t the technology save this company.

You will find lots of videos and articles online from amazing sources about what exactly happened and how. They talk about how Elizabeth Holmes was great at convincing people and at gaining the trust of all people. They talk about her obsession with Steve Jobs, and how investors believed her until they found out the truth. (find them at the end of this article)

But none of this would have happened if Theranos had technology that was really different and innovative in any way. Their equipment was big, heavy and performed worse than competitors equipment. Because it was supposed to do the exact same thing. When a client sent a blood sample to the company, a scientist would take it and put it into the Theranos machine that would later analyze it and give a result. The problem is that such a machine requires a lot of work to develop and other companies have already done that.

This is why when the truth came out about the company, it was revealed that Theranos rarely used their own devices and instead used devices from competitors. So there was no tech in the lab that was any different from the tech “conventional” blood testing laboratories had at the time.

The kit that clients bought, was just a bottle to collect blood and a finger lancet/finger piercing devices, like the ones you find in glucose test kits. From the images it looks like they were collecting about 300ul per client. This is enough to run some tests, but not 200 as they claimed. If they were more conservative with their claims they could have had happy customers, but wouldn’t have gotten as popular. Because if i wanted to do 10 tests, why not go do all of them at once to be sure i am healthy.

And you may think that, 23andMe does almost the same thing. This is true, but they do DNA tests. You can amplify DNA, but you cannot amplify cells, or proteins that act as biomarkers in a blood sample. And keep in mind that even 23andMe recently faced criticism about their results being unreliable.

The truth is, that businesses try to compete so hard in today’s market that they sometimes lose their focus and attempt to sell something that cannot exist, or not in scale. Theranos is not the only example of such a business, but is probably one of the worst.

Interesting articles on the topic: https://www.siliconvalley.com/2019/02/08/how-the-elizabeth-holmes-scandal-became-fodder-for-hbo-film/

https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/24/theranos-the-inventor-review/?guccounter=1

https://www.businessinsider.com/unicorn-health-startups-not-enough-research-theranos-warning-2019-1?r=US&IR=T

Image: CC BY-SA 4.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56405808

By Theranos – https://www.theranos.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58216087

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