Researcher is Finalist in International Healthcare Innovation Competition

A researcher at Intermountain Medical Center has developed a smart phone imaging device and program that will improve the accuracy and speed for the diagnosis of major diseases, such as HIV and thyroid diseases. 

What typically takes several hours and costs hundreds of dollars to diagnose, can now be done in 20 minutes and for less than 10 dollars. 

Joel Ehrenkranz, M.D., director of diabetes and endocrinology at Intermountain Medical Center, and his team from i-calQ, are one of 12 finalists in the Nokia Sensing XChallenge, an international competition focused on the advancement of sensing technology in healthcare. 

Their device uses smart phone technology to image, quantify, and interpret point-of-care diagnostic tests for many diseases, including HIV, thyroid disease, syphilis, diabetes, adrenal disorders, malaria, kidney disease, infertility, and anemia. 

The winning team will receive more than $525,000. Five distinguished awards of $120,000 each will also be awarded. Researchers believe this new technology will replace the complex and time-intensive processes of a centralized laboratory.

“Central labs are incredibly sophisticated, but so was the Tyrannosaurus Rex,” says Dr. Ehrenkranz. “It was a technological marvel of its time, but the environment changed. And as the environment continues to change what central labs are evolving into are smart phones. It’s amazing to think about the role of smart phone technology will play in healthcare. It will change the way medicine is practiced.” 

For much of his career, Dr. Ehrenkranz has worked with point-of-care diagnostic tests known as immunoassays that are used to detect specific molecules, such as home pregnancy tests and urine sample drug tests. While these tests are simple, they do not yield much information. There was not an easy way to measure and make recommendations based on the results. 

While Dr. Ehrenkranz was living on the border between Uganda and the Congo in 2007, an Ebola outbreak erupted. He hypothesized that using smart phone technology and his work with point-of-care diagnostic testing he could measure, quantify, and diagnose Ebola in a timely fashion, which would result saving lives and end the outbreak. 

“In Africa, point-of-care immunoassays were common but there wasn’t a way to easily quantify them,” says Dr. Ehrenkranz. “And though smart phones were just coming out and the functionality was limited, the cell phone network was sophisticated. I knew this would be a great opportunity to combine this new technology and everything I was doing with immunoassays.” 

When Dr. Ehrenkranz returned to the U.S., he began working on converting his idea of using smart phones for point of care testing into a tangible product. In 2011 he and his team produced the first working prototype. At first the prototype was programmed for testing thyroid disease, but further research showed health organizations were interested in testing other diseases, including anemia, HIV, syphilis, and preeclampsia. 

Dr. Ehrenkranz began working with D-Tree International, a nonprofit organization that uses electronic protocols and an evidence-based algorithm to help with the correct diagnosis and treatment for each patient. With their algorithm combined with this new technology they could now measure, interrupt, diagnose, and make recommendations. 

Dr. Ehrenkranz and the rest of his team from i-calQ will attend the MHealth 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 for final judging. 

As a major research facility, Intermountain Medical Center engages in more than 480 studies each year in fields such as cardiology, informatics, pulmonary, critical care, oncology, obstetrics and gynecology and more. 

“Research and Innovation are central to what we do at Intermountain Medical Center,” says David Grauer, Intermountain Medical Center’s Administrator. “They are both part of our mission to be a model of extraordinary care locally, regionally and nationally. It’s physicians like Dr. Ehrenkranz that make that possible. His involvement as a finalist in the XChallenge is an amazing opportunity.” 

“Innovation is doctoring,” said Dr. Ehrenkranz. “We are simply coming up with novel, better solutions to answer questions and help people. To think that this competition started with more than 140 teams and that we are one of the finalists is a great accomplishment.”

​Joel Ehrenkranz, MD, is a Finalists in the Nokia Sensing XChallenge​