Where’s my Tricorder? Modern biosurveillance technology still has not caught up to the 60’s science fiction promise.
The Tricorder from Star Trek has become an icon for the Holy Grail of the biosurveillance community, a mythical device that can detect, diagnose, and characterize a biological threat instantly and at a distance. There is even an X-Prize for the development of a multi-function widget that can be used as a personal medical tool. This raises the obvious question: what does the biosurveillance community envision its Tricorder will do? Based upon two recent specific acquisition programs posted on the Federal Business Opportunity web site, (DHS BioWatch Gen-3 and DoD Joint Program Executive Office of Chemical Biological Defense Next Generation Diagnostic System/Increment 1), a few consistent themes come to mind
- Able to analyze a wide variety of clinical and environmental sample types
- Extremely low error rates (both false positive and negatives)
- Reliable, durable room temperature supply chain
- High throughput, high multiplex analysis to look for many pathogens/analytes in many samples
- Low life-cycle costs
- Lightweight, portable, easy to use
The superiority of the Tricorder is apparent when looking at this list. It was never wrong, was not limited to known targets, and needed no reagents. Our current technology is likely not going to match this any time soon, although the push for “global biosurveillance” is constantly resulting in improvements in our capabilities.
Tricorder image from www.roddenberry.com