If good things come in small packages, then the latest Triton innovation is sure to make an impact—smaller than a toaster and just as unassuming, this little gray box is poised to revolutionize lab work in public health.
The “Search” is the debut medical device from FluxErgy, a medical diagnostics company founded by Tej Patel ’10, MS ’12, and Ryan Revilla ’10, two aerospace engineering alumni who met while involved in Triton Racing, a student group that builds racecars from scratch.
The pair parlayed that experience to working on high-end racecars after graduation, yet both knew they wanted to make more of a difference. Racecars may seem a world apart from healthcare, but they applied the same engineering principles of improving systems and design to solve a problem that could help people the world over.
While Patel’s wife (alumna Priya Bhat Patel ’10) was working on her master’s in public health, he noticed a massive inefficiency in that industry.
“Currently, there is enormous infrastructure required for laboratory testing—many complicated steps and a number of expensive machines needed to conduct even just a typical set of tests,” says Patel. “Because we came into this as engineers, we took a very different approach, asking ourselves, ‘Do we really need to do it like this?’”
He and Revilla saw a better way to perform medical assays—using one device that could perform a wide variety of tests, in the same way one video game console can play multiple games. They set out to build a general-purpose device that uses programmed test cards that tell the machine what kind of test to run.
“We spent about a year making prototypes,” says Patel. “Most were made in Ryan’s garage or in my kitchen.”
From those humble beginnings came a palm-sized laboratory that can perform a variety of optical and electrical measurements according to a function-specific test card. Adaptations to the test cards eliminate the need for multiple machines to conduct typical laboratory analyses.
The result is ideal for point-of-care use and especially useful in resource-limited settings such as Africa or India, where test turnaround times can take upward of 50 days and can let diseases progress without treatment.
FluxErgy’s “Search” device is just finishing its beta program, yet the team has already hired six more Tritons to help the company make an impact.
“UC San Diego’s rigorous curriculum and research focus produces graduates that are already proficient at what they do,” says Patel. “That’s why we hire Tritons.”