By abandoning the semi-official name Edison to refer to its one-stop mobile bloodwork platform and officially branding it as the Theranos Sample Processing Unit, or miniLab, Theranos seems to have once again confused a lot of the media that it’s doing something different.
August 1, 2016
After all the skepticism about Theranos, the media went to the AACC conference where founder Elizabeth Holmes publicly talked about the Theranos technology – introducing a new term called miniLab which was enough for many in the media to proclaim “Theranos introduced a brand new technology”.
MiniLab is essentially a technology platform – formally called the Theranos Sample Processing Unit – which allows for a single portable platform “designed to process small sample volumes across a broad set of different test methodologies.”
Now isn’t this exactly what the platform formerly-known-as-Edison was supposed to do?
The answer is: Yes of course. This is exactly the same vision that Theranos has been hawking for the past few years.
So how is MiniLab different? As per the media, it’s apparently different because the name is different.
Here is the interesting thing: Theranos itself did not say it was a new technology platform. The triumphant announcement on its site simply says this is the first time it is being presented in a public setting (true).
Now no doubt the latest version of the platform, call it Garkle v53 is better than the previous versions, just as Garkle v54 will be better than v53. Garkle v53 may be better in accuracy, calibration, consistency, volume processing, efficiency etc etc than the previous Garkle versions which didn’t work so well, but the basic concept is still the same: a mobile platform that can do multiple tests using a small amount of blood which would relay data remotely.
Yet because previous versions of Garkle were code-named Edison and the one unveiled today was official named the Theranos Sample Processing Unit – or MiniLab – the media announces “new technology”! If Theranos called it an updated version of Edison, the media would have reported it with less fanfare as “a new version of their platform.”
Here’s a picture of the previous platform as pictured in October 2015 and what was presented today side-by-side.
Well we don’t know. Theranos presented a bunch of non peer-reviewed data similar to that previously available on its site with graphs and correlations for venous blood draws (and not capillary draws).
They announced that they are now going to go for peer review and opening up the gates to show their platform.
Holmes also admitted to a sharp question that whatever was presented today did not show that hundreds of tests could be conducted on a couple of drops of blood – that still seemed an aspirational goal.
Even if upgraded Edison works, is it revolutionary?
Again this was not clear. It was pointed out that there are current FDA approved technologies that were – for example in the case of testing for the Zika virus – 50x more sensitive than still-to-be-approved Theranos tech.
So even if miniLab works, whether it works more efficiently than existing tech is not clear.
Essentially Theranos went back-asswards by FIRST commercializing its secret technology platform (then code named Edison) and operations before both were ready, falling on its face and THEN presenting its still work-in-progress and to-be-validated technology platform (now officially branded TSPU or miniLab) as some sort of Big Reveal to say “We have something very exciting” and “we would like to work with you all on it” and “get independent peer review.”
Which is of course what they should have done first. Before commercializing it.
And it’s still not clear when it will be cleared for the field and even then whether it’s particularly efficient or revolutionary compared to existing technology.
And yet the media seems to have fallen for the latest dog-and-pony show.