February 06, 2015
Kenko is a diagnostic device for the home. It studies the activity of small molecules (microRNA) in your blood in order to detect early signs of disease. By subscribing to its medical service, Kenko will send a monthly testing disc which will ensure users to catch health threats before they cause any harm.
Kenko is the first domestic microRNA detection device. It allows users to regularly screen for various diseases (cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cholesterol, etc...) without disrupting their life. The service is designed to blend into people's routine making those important health diagnosis a common habit.
Service / User Experience
Kenko is part of a bigger ecosystem. By subscribing to its service, users will receive their testing discs every month. They will then be able to perform the test in less than 10 minutes. At the end of the test, the disposal of the biowaste (disc+lancet) is done by placing all the material back in its packaging and sending it back to the company. Kenko will then clean, recycle and reuse the discs.
Note: Each disc is tailored to each individual by a doctor. Healthcare professionals such as general practitioners or molecular microbiologists will review the results and contact the user if they spot any abnormality. The user will be able to live their life worry-free and contact their assigned doctor through the smartphone app in order to get their results explained if desired.
Kenko Diagnostic Device
Technology: Kenko analyses microRNA patterns in blood and correlate them with patterns of diseases stored in KenkoCloud. The disc has 32 wells in which is kept a unique chemical solution looking for a unique microRNA. When the blood get to the well, a reaction happens. The camera will then analyse this reaction by measuring the intensity of light going through each well, revealing a microRNA expression pattern.
Design: The device has a clean and friendly look, going against the stigmatised design of current healthcare devices. The frosted polycarbonate lid lets users glance through it and see the beautiful pattern that the blood creates when the disc is spanned. Its interface is reduced to a minimum with only 3 steps necessary to run a test: power, slide camera, play. The speaker is here to notify when the test is starting and finishing. The recessed surface allow to easily pick up the disc at the end of the test.
The packaging of the disc has the same transparent quality as the device in order to create a cohesive design language. It contains basic information such as name of customer, date of test and is referenced by a bar code. Inside the package is the disposable lancet and reagent disc. Once the test is done, the customer places the used disc and lancet back in its packaging and will send it back to Kenko for disposal. The user doesn't have to deal with the biowaste.
The digital app ties the whole service together. Taking design cues from the device and the disc, it lets users connect with the device, consult their medical and test history, contact their assigned doctor and so on. It is designed to empower people with valuable information about their health.
Kenko's campaign aims to raise awareness around the importance of early detection. It shows off the product in a friendly manner without taking away its medical competence.
How can we facilitate access to early diagnosis of disease?
Healthcare System - Data
The current healthcare system is focusing on treating illness instead of preventing it in the first place.
Nearly half of all cancers in the UK are diagnosed too late to be treatable.
NCDs (Non-Communicable Diseases) were the cause for 68% of all deaths globally in 2012. A lot of NCDs could be avoided if diagnosed at an early stage.
"The closest thing we have to a silver bullet against cancer is early detection."
There are various services and products available to help detect and prevent health conditions early. They are often fast and affordable.
Theranos for instance, is an American company revolutionising the blood test. Delivering lab services at a fraction of the cost and time. It also go against the conceived idea that blood analysis are painful. Theranos runs over 30 lab tests from a few droplets of blood drawn from the fingertip of the patient.
Those few examples show us the potential that recent bio-science discoveries have to help spread access to preventive measures.
In order to learn more about the issues surrounding diseases and early detection, I have interviewed a range of healthcare specialists as well as patients and target users. It helped me understand what are the current challenges of both patients and professionals which highly influenced the design decisions I took along the way.
There are very little products out there answering healthcare needs but designed specifically for consumers rather than healthcare professionals or patient. I saw an opportunity to create a device that would sit between a telehealth device (e.g. blood pressure monitor) and a consumer device (e.g. wearable activity tracker).
microRNA: a Revolutionary Biomarker of Disease
microRNAs are those recently discovered molecule which showed the potential to be an incredible marker of disease. The human body has about 6000 of those molecules, all expressing themselves under various circumstances. The study of their expression pattern can leave us cues as to what is happening in our body (see next: Miroculus).
Miroculus: a microRNA Detection Platform
Image source: Miroculus
Miroculus is a life science company which developed a technology able to diagnose diseases early thanks to the study of microRNA. They are creating a database aiming at correlating the diseases' miRNA expression pattern with the one of the patient. If the sample of the patient matches the expression pattern of a disease, then the device with flag it so the patient can take appropriate measure to treat it while the disease hasn't caused irreversible damage.
This game changing technology has had the TED audience in awe during Jorge Soto's live demo. See his TED talk here.
After knowing about Miroculus, I decided to use the technology principles for the development of a domestic diagnostic device.
The risk of disease fluctuates throughout our life as well as people's concerns towards their health. In the first 20 years of our life, risks and concerns are low. From 55 years old onwards, risks are significantly higher, and people start being really preoccupied with their conditions. However, between 30 and 45 years old, people tend to be at a very busy period of their life (career, children, mortgage, etc..) which prevent them to make health an absolute priority despite the fact that studies show an increase in health threats. This user group seemed to be a perfect target for a domestic diagnostic device which would screen for diseases on a regular basis without disrupting their lifestyle.
Concept: User Scenario
In order to study microRNA, users would need to collect a few droplets of blood and distribute them into the 96 wells of a standard PCR-plate (lab equipment used for DNA sequencing). The initial aim of this concept was to make the protocol easy enough to perform by people who haven't been trained to do so.
The whole design being driven by this 96-well PCR plate, the device was bulky and required a very complex protocol. I was then looking for a simpler way to combine various steps into one.
The move from the standard PCR plate to a reagent disc was a major turning point. The idea is to be able to centrifuge the blood as well as analyse it in one single step. The reagent disc has 32 wells and requires the user to fill it with a few droplets of blood in the middle. Once the disc is ready, it can then be placed in the device which will centrifuge the blood (separating red blood cells from plasma) and let it flow up to the wells where the plasma will be in contact with reagents which will then be optically analysed by the device.
The disc allowed me to break away from a boxy format. I could then create a device that would feel right at home and not remind users of intimidating laboratory instruments.
Molecular Microbiologist Endorsement
I had the chance to get help from a couple of healthcare professionals during this project. Jacob's expertise was molecular microbiology. He's guided me through the development of the product, making sure the protocol's requirements were fulfilled.