THERANOS UPSTAGED BY TOSHIBA?December 2, 2019
Wow... I mean, wow...
Although today's blog concerns a short, and not very informative article, it's a whopper doozie. (And a big thank you to S.H. for spotting it and passing it along). But first a bit of context before we get to today's article and high octane speculation.
If you're a regular reader here, you might recall that one of the stories that fascinates me is that of Elizabeth Holmes, and her Silicon Valley start-up, Theranos. The name "Theranos" was Holmes' idea to combine "therapy" with "diagnosis", because according to her, her company was developing a technology that would be able to test blood for a whole panel of diseases. The catch was, that Holmes claimed she had developed a concept and technology to do so (1) from a few droplets of blood, and (2) do so in the home, with a small unit about the size of a desktop computer or printer, and that the machine would analyze the sample and produce results within a few hours. No more waiting for days and days for laboratory results; no more giving syringe after syringe of blood.
Within a few months of starting Theranos, Holmes was well on her way to becoming a billionaire; she was smart, attractive, articulate, and the darling of media talk shows and magazine articles about her, her idea, and her company. And her company, Theranos, had begun to attract some very big names to its board: Riley Bechtel, former Secretary of State George Schulz, General Mattis, Henry Kissinger, just to name a few. The military interest is explainable: imagine being able to do such blood tests on the battle field with a small portable unit. And there was a further implication of her claims: testing for diseases via chemical signatures in the blood would allow for very early detection without the need for more embarrassing tests for cervical or prostrate cancers, and so on. Early detection could equal early treatment, and early treatment, especially in the case of cancers, could lead to remissions and cures.
The whole problem with Holmes' claims was she was never completely forthright about how it would work. Assuming she was not committing egregious fraud (and I don't believe she was), such a concept would require a complete revolution in technology and medical testing, and again, if you're a regular reader here, you'll know my prior speculations on this claim assumed that Holmes was testing at the quantum level. I've blogged about technologies and discoveries about the passage of light from crystal to liquid: at the boundary condition between the two, unique light waves are created in response to the medium. In my speculation, it was a very different kind of spectroscopy that Holmes was after. (See:
As the above blogs point out, there did exist concepts in biophysics similar to what I was guessing Holmes was after, and one regular reader of this website even sent along a Theranos patent that seemed to confirm my speculations in a broad was, for the patent called for the use of a prism, a crystal, in its devices. Regardless, Holmes went on to be indicted for fraud, and the value of her company collapsed.
But now there's yet another twist in the story. The famous Japanese company of Toshiba is now making a similar claim:
Note, that in Toshiba's case at least, the claim is very similar to that of Holmes and Theranos: just a few drops of blood will be all that is needed to test for a whole panel of cancers; only the breadth of Toshiba's claim appears to be narrower than Holmes'; Toshiba is testing for specific cancers, whereas Holmes' claims were not restricted, so far as I know, to cancers:
Toshiba announced Monday the development of a technology capable of detecting up to 13 types of cancer from a single drop of blood, and with an accuracy of 99 percent.
Specifically, the new test will be used to detect gastric, esophageal, pulmonary, hepatic, biliary, pancreatic, intestinal, ovarian, prostate, bladder and breast cancers, as well as sarcoma and glioma.
Toshiba has created a chip and a small device that carries out the diagnosis in less than two hours. (Emphasis in the original)
Now, you can color me "very suspicious," for it would seem all but obvious that there may be some sort of relationship between Toshiba's claims for its device, and the original claims of Holmes. So we're confronted with a "problematic": is Toshiba making fraudulent claims? That's very unlikely; Toshiba's reputation for high-tech advanced engineering is so well-known it hardly needs any explaining. If it says it can do it, it probably can. So that means that Holmes' claims are not as far-fetched and fraudulent as certain reports on Theranos's claims say they are.
To put it country simple: why does Toshiba get a pass, and Theranos does not?
And that leads to more disturbing "high octane questions." If the fundamental idea that Holmes had is true, why then does it appear that someone did not want her involved with the elaboration of her concept, and the development of the accompanying technology? Was the fraud case against Holmes and Theranos for the express purpose of stealing her technology? Toshiba did not steal it, because as far as I know, the Japanese company does not appear in the chain and any principals involved with Holmes. More likely Toshiba heard about Holmes and her idea and concepts, studied some Theranos patents, and decided it was an area worthy of investigation and development. But that raises another disturbing question: who did shut her down, and why?
Or to put it country simple once again, the Toshiba story just raised big questions about Holmes, Theranos, and the whole surrounding legal quagmire. There's something going on with this story, and we have yet to find enough clues to know what it is. Rest assured though, it's probably very big, and very murky.
See you on the flip side...