January 04, 2012

Reviewing the Life Science XPrizes in Development or Consideration

The goal of the Life Sciences Prize Group is to stimulate innovative breakthroughs in molecular biology, stem cell research, bionics, organogenesis, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence in order to improve health care and extend healthy living.

Active - The $10 million Archon Genomics X PRIZE will usher in a new era of preventative and personalized medicine by challenging scientists and engineers to create better, cheaper and faster ways to sequence genomes. The prize purse will be awarded to the first team to sequence 100 human genomes within 10 days for $10,000 or less per genome with an accuracy of no more than one error in every 100,000 bases sequenced.

Xprizes in development are
- Tricorder X PRIZE
- Tuberculosis Diagnostics X PRIZE
- Vision Restoration X PRIZE

Tricorder X PRIZE

The dire need to improve healthcare and health in the U.S. is a problem whose solution has evaded the brightest minds. The Tricorder X PRIZE is a $10 million competition to stimulate innovation and integration of precision diagnostic technologies, making definitive health assessment available directly to “health consumers.” These technologies on a consumer’s mobile device will be presented in an appealing, engaging way that brings a desire to be incorporated into daily life. Advances in fields such as artificial intelligence, wireless sensing, imaging diagnostics, lab-on-a-chip, and molecular biology will enable better choices in when, where, and how individuals receive care, thus making healthcare more convenient, affordable, and accessible. The winner will be the team that most accurately diagnoses a set of diseases independent of a healthcare professional or facility and that provides the best consumer user experience.

Medical tech startup Scanadu has created a scanner that appears to have been inspired by those of Drs. McCoy and Crusher. The ‘Medical Tricorder’ scanner can take vitals such as blood pressure, pulmonary function, and temperature, and sends them to your smartphone.

The Sensing X CHALLENGE is a $2.25 million competition to accelerate innovation in sensors and sensing technologies that are the basis for diagnostic and health assessment breakthroughs. New frontiers are being conquered in sensing accuracy, precision, portability, usability, interoperability, and affordability. These advances allow significant capture of an individual’s health metrics either periodically or ongoing. Together with algorithms and applications that interpret data patterns for hidden discoveries, sensing then provides a necessary pathway for the precise diagnosis of diseases. Precision quantification of the human state opens up mechanisms for further research, more reliable treatment of disease, and improved outcomes. In addition, sensing breakthroughs provide unlimited potential for incorporation into other technology systems such as the Tricorder X PRIZE.

Tuberculosis Diagnostics X PRIZE

The Tuberculosis Diagnostics X PRIZE is a competition to create a set of rapid, accurate, and easy-to-use, point-of-care diagnostics to eradicate tuberculosis in developing countries. Nearly two million deaths occur annually in 22 tuberculosis high-incident developing countries. The TB Diagnostics X PRIZE can help ensure that every TB patient has access to effective diagnosis, treatment, and cure, which will reduce the inequitable social and economic toll of TB.

Vision Restoration X PRIZE

While some progress has been made with certain devices (for example, cochlear implants for hearing loss), the progress of vision restoration for those suffering from poor or no vision lags far behind that of other sensory loss. This is not a result of lack of patient need: today over 160 million Americans suffer from poor or no vision. In fact, many eye diseases that lead to progressive visual loss and eventual blindness have no or limited treatment today. The winner of the Vision Restoration competition will be the first team to restore vision in a person once blinded by retinal degenerative disease. Teams may select their own participant, who must be medically certified as blind from a retinal degenerative disease, and may work to impart their solution and train them by any means available.

Concepts Under Consideration

Bionics X Legs

According to a study initiated by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, there are nearly one in fifty people living with paralysis -- approximately six million people. The monetary and emotional costs of paralysis are high: estimated lifetime costs due to spinal cord injury can range from $681,843 to more than $3 million for a 25 year old.

Brain Computer Interface

With advances in this field, technologies that can directly read information from the brain or write information to the brain have the potential to revolutionize a number of industries: healthcare, disease, communications and computer-related technologies. There could also be multiple opportunities for creating better diagnostic, management and assistive technologies that can be used in biomedical and industrial applications. The winner of the Brain Computer Interface competition will be the team that successfully demonstrates a bi-directional non-verbal brain-computer communication. Teams may use an invasive or non-invasive brain transmission device, and may train the human participant in any way they desire.

Cancer Blood Test

The incidence rates of several types of cancer (e.g. liver, pancreas, kidney, esophagus, and thyroid) have continued to rise, as have the rates of new cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, myeloma, and childhood cancers. A key challenge in cancer control and prevention is detection of the disease as early as possible, which can enable effective interventions and therapies to contribute to a reduction in mortality and morbidity. The goal will be to develop a method to test for certain cancers (breast, prostate or lung) via a blood test. The winner of this competition will be the first team that is able to successfully detect cancer at least one year in advance of traditional mechanisms.

Complex Organ Regeneration

Today there is a shortage of available transplantable organs: over 100,000 people in the US are on a waiting list for an organ and nearly 10,000 patients a year die on long waiting lists for compatible organs. Even for those patients that do receive transplants, the toll of non-selective immunosuppressive drugs is high. The goal of this competition will be to construct a whole new complex organ (heart, kidney, liver, lung, pancreas) made from a patient’s own cells. The organ must demonstrate normal biological function within accepted parameters, and the patient must survive for six months without the use of immunosuppressant drugs.

Enduring Brain Computer Communication

With advances in this field, technologies such as those that are implanted for long periods of time into the human brain can provide us with more robust and longer-term data that can be applied to a number of industries: healthcare, disease, communications and computer-related technologies.
The winning team of the Enduring Brain Computer Communication competition will be the first to develop a functional brain implanted electrode that can last for three years.

Human Digit Regeneration

Limb loss affects a variety of people around the world and includes people of every race, ethnicity and background, without regard to geographic location, occupation or economic level. In 2007, there were approximately 1.7 million persons living with limb loss in the U.S. Each year, approximately 185,000 amputations are performed in the United States. The goal of the Human Digit Regeneration competition will be to completely and functionally re-grow the last two phalanges of a finger on a human patient.


Today, 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. This figure includes 200,000 individuals younger than age 65. The annual cost of treatment is in excess of $20,000 per person per year. The growth of younger-onset Alzheimer’s is a growing concern as such individuals are productive members of the workforce and active members of the community. Diagnosis of young-onset Alzheimer’s may mean retiring earlier than the afflicted individuals had anticipated, or maybe sooner than they can afford to. Early detection, diagnosis and intervention are vital because they provide individuals the best opportunities for treatment, support and planning for their future. Early detection and monitoring in clinical trials would provide drug makers the opportunity to identify the most promising pharmaceutical compounds. As part of the Neuro competition, a database of standardized sleep EEG datasets from known early onset Alzheimer’s cases, Mild Cognitive Impairment cases, and normal cases will be put online. Teams must then decipher the patterns and accurately diagnose which EEGs belong to those with Alzheimer’s without selecting false positives.


Even when diagnosed by a physician, a Parkinson’s diagnosis is based on medical history and a neurological examination conducted by qualitative ratings only (Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale), leaving many cases not diagnosed or not diagnosed accurately, especially in its early stages. Early genetic work has resulted in tests for rarer forms of the disease (early onset Parkinson’s), but many of the elderly-onset genes and the complement genes believed to contribute to the disease have not yet been mapped nor cloned. The winner of the Parkinson’s competition must fully sequence the DNA of 1,000 Parkinson’s patients and post the completed sequences and medical records in an open source format.

Robotic Home Helper
In the US, the elderly increased by a factor of 11 in the past century, while the population under 65 years old only tripled. As a result there are more and more elderly, but fewer younger adults available to care for them. Assistive technology is crucial for baby boomers that are searching for solutions to help them care for aging parents. The Robotic Home Helper competition will result in a robot capable of improving the quality of life of elderly and disabled persons. The goal of the competition will be to develop a robot that can (1) demonstrate the ability to evaluate and learn the layout of a test space and (2) restore that test space to its original condition after the contents have been rearranged.

Space Life

Today, not only are humans unable to transport themselves to Mars, they are not able to sustain life on the planet. It is true that the three primary requirements for life -water, organic (or chemical) materials and energy-are found within the near surface of Mars. Shielded from the various stresses imposed by the Martian surface environment, it is believed-but not proven-that life could find the perfect niche within meters of the surface. Simple photosynthetic organisms could theoretically receive enough energy from the sun at certain periods (based upon examples set by extremophiles-many of them photosynthetic cyanobacteria-currently living within the Antarctic and Arctic ice caps) to thrive.
The winner of the Space Life competition will be the first team that can create a single or multi-cellular edible organism that can grow under standard Martian surface conditions.

Stem Cell

Since the early 20th century, cell culture techniques in biology labs have remained largely unchanged; they are done in a highly variable, labor-intensive manner, requiring high costs in terms of personnel, media and supplies, lengthy cycles and inefficient cell yields. Methods and variables are inconsistent, and resulting cells, especially when differentiated, often have low levels of purity. The winner of the Stem Cell competition will be the first team that is able to transform a single cell into multiple differentiated tissue types.

Vision Surrogate

This competition will award a prize purse to the team that is able to design a portable hand-held device that provides the blind the freedom, comfort, and awareness to explore the world and to safely navigate their surroundings. The goal of this competition is to enable blind individuals to perform basic daily-life functions that a white cane or guide dog cannot.

Organ Cryopreservation X PRIZE

The global need for breakthroughs in the availability and access to organs has never been greater. The potential value or organ cryopreservation is immense on several levels. First, the technology could obviously have potential for the preservation of internal organs that currently have only a brief window of viability after being removed from a donor. This could substantially increase the effectiveness and decrease the cost of organ replacement by reducing the geographical and time constraints on organ transplantation. Second, thanks to burgeoning advances in tissue engineering, cryopreservation could also provide a way for people to store and manage replacement organs grown from their own stem cells instead of waiting on a compatible donor. Lastly, advances in organ cryopreservation will be essential to specialists in different cryobiological sub-disciplines. For example, this includes the reversible cryopreservation of humans and animals that can no longer be sustained by contemporary medicine, with the hope that healing and resuscitation may be possible in the future. The X PRIZE envisions the Cryopreservation X PRIZE as A $10M prize for the first team to transplant a human or animal vital organ (heart, lung, liver, kidney) into five animals that lacks their own, with 3 months’ post-transplant survival, having stored each organ below –120 degrees C for at least a week before transplantation

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