UPDATE: THAT STRANGE THERANOS STORY, AND ITS OPTICAL PATENTSSeptember 11, 2019
During last week's News and Views from the Nefarium (Sept. 5, 2019), I had to resist temptation to talk about the "easy" story (BREXIT), to talk about a story that had caught my eyes thanks to an astute reader of this website who brought it to my attention. The story was one of those short and, at a surface level, "dull" science pieces about the latest discovery. But when I read it, I immediately thought about its possible connection to another story. What caught my attention was that scientists have observed a new kind of light wave that emerges in the boundary conditions when light traveling through crystals transitions into a very different medium, say, a liquid, producing a kind of spectroscopic response. The article went on to mention that the discovery had all sorts of potential applications, including in the medical and biotech fields.
That little statement gave me pause, and made me immediately think of the whole saga of Elizabeth Holmes and her once much-vaunted multi-billion-dollar start-up Silicon Valley company sensation, Theranos. For many years Ms. Holmes was the darling of the talk shows and magazines: a smart, articulate, attractive, young and determined business woman with a bright idea. Her bright idea, essentially, was to place small portable blood testing units - about the size of a desktop computer - in homes and businesses, that would be able to test your blood for a multitude of diseases and potential health issues, all from just a couple drops of blood, and then be able to deliver the results right there and then. No big syringes full of blood to be sent off to distant laboratories for analysis with several days' waiting time, and more hours in the lobby of perpetually-late-to-their-appointments doctors, who bill you for their time, but have no regard for your time. All that: gone. And with just a couple small drops of blood and a portable "home testing unit." Say what one will about Ms. Holmes, she at least had the guts to dream big.
When I first learned about this story from former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Catherine Austin Fitts, I was intrigued, and began to research the story just for my own personal interest, even buying and reading Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou's book about the story, Bad Blood, the only book-length study of the subject, and based on Carreyrou's serialized articles for the newspaper. What intrigued me about the story, and Ms. Holmes' claims, was the sheer impossibility of doing what she claimed Theranos would be able to do based on ordinary laboratory chemical (or even ordinary spectroscopic) methods. Indeed, as I pointed out in the Sept. 5th News and Views, and according to Carreyrou, attempts to get Theranos' technology to peer review were thwarted by Holmes and the senior management at Theranos. Attempts to get Theranos to disclose its technology led to vague statements. Effectively, it was a black box that no one else was permitted to peer inside and see what made it work.
But the story disturbed me, and disturbs me still, because in the final analysis we're being asked to believe that Holmes and Theranos were essentially and totally fraudulent. Don't get me wrong; massive fraud can and has been committed and run for years before anyone is the wiser, think only of Bernie Madoff (or the federal budget for that matter). But on something like this, there had to have been something genuine at the core, otherwise Theranos and Ms. Holmes would not have been able to attract the sorts of people they attracted to her board, people like George Schultz, or Riley Bechtel, or General James Mattis. We'll get back to my high octane speculation of the day on that score shortly. But for the moment, my reasoning was that for Ms. Holmes to be able to claim to do what she wanted to do, some sort of very different and advanced optical technology and spectroscopy would have to be involved. Hence, my interest in the story about the discovery of a new form of light wave emerging from crystals at the boundary with another medium, a liquid medium, like blood, and that story's own statement that it had great potential for the medical and biotech industries, like testing. As I mused in my News and Views commentary that day, perhaps we're looking at part of the real story behind Theranos being let out into the public eye.
All this rambling "around Harvey's Barn" (as my mother used to say) has been for a purpose, for it brings us to today's story, shared by a regular reader, G.L.R., who had very sharp eyes:
When scrolling through this list of Theranos patents, one comes across Patent number 9835548, the abstract of which reads as follows The full patent text is here: Theranos Patent 9835548):
Patent number: 9835548Abstract: The devices and systems disclosed herein provide multiple optical capabilities in a single device or system. Methods for using these devices and systems are provided. These devices and systems are configurable for operation in each of a spectroscopy mode, a fluorescence mode, and a luminescence mode, and are capable of performing spectroscopic, fluorescence, and luminescence observations, measurements, and analyzes when operated in the corresponding spectroscopy mode, fluorescence mode, or luminescence mode. These devices and systems include mirror dispersion elements having multiple faces including an optical dispersion element on one face (e.g., a diffraction grating or a prism) and a reflective element on another face (e.g., a mirror). These multiple capabilities eliminate the need to move or load a sample in multiple devices when subjecting a sample to multiple analyzes, and thus provide greater accuracy, precision, and speed while reducing complexity and cost of sample analysis.Type: GrantFiled: May 20, 2016Date of Patent: December 5, 2017 (Italicized and boldface emphases added)