Event Recap: 69th Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo (AACC)

I recently had the privilege of attending the 69th Annual Scientific Meeting and Clinical Lab Expo put on by the American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Held this year in San Diego, the event attracted a record attendance with an audience that spanned academia, research, laboratory specialists and the life science industry.

The exhibition floor was dizzying with big players like Abbott, Roche and Beckman Coulter vying for attention. I spent my time listening to their take on the industry. It quickly became apparent that there are different challenges for the commercial laboratory (throughput drives the technology) and point-of-care diagnostics (usability and experience reigns supreme). In both cases, the technology (typically a combination of surface chemistry, microfluidics, optics, and automation) is critical to the sensitivity and specificity (i.e. diagnostic usefulness) of test results.

On the other side, a myriad of smaller support companies were offering key technologies, materials, and development support. Other than the AACC, where else can you find a provider of magnetic nanoparticles  (useful in nucleic acid purification) like Ocean NanoTech next to a lab automation manufacturer like Tecan, just down the aisle from German microfluidics experts, ChipShop? If you need to piece together your diagnostic assay then this is the event for you.

Meanwhile, the boldest minds in research and development met upstairs in the scientific conference portion of the event. I enjoyed the Tuesday morning plenary presentation from Jay Shendure, MD, Ph.D. from the University of Washington called "Beyond Sequencing: New Frontiers in Genomics."

After a brief history of genomics, Dr. Shendure explained the potential impact of recent advances in single-cell analysis as a means to reduce noise in tumor assays, cell-free DNA as a minimally invasive test for cancer and genetic disorders, and progress toward an atlas of the human genome. His talk reinforced the sense of acceleration in the life science field that I have felt over the last few years. We are on the edge of rapid change and innovation.

Down the hall, I had the opportunity to hear from the finalists in the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE; a $10 Million challenge to develop a portable device capable of diagnosing 12 distinct disease states.

The teams competed across three main areas including vitals, diagnostics, and usability. Interestingly, Jessica Ching, Lead Consultant from Xprize.org, thought they should have emphasized the usability aspect in judging even more. Her belief is that if patients love the experience and value the data offered, then they will embrace this newfound access to their health information.

While the event was just short of overwhelming, I saw many opportunities where great design and attention to users' needs will have an impact on our lives. Point-of-care devices are intended to be used by attention-deprived caregivers outside the rigorous protocols of a clinical laboratory.

Simplicity, intelligibility, reliability and robustness are demands placed on these products that typically involve a disposable and durable element. Companies that want to get this right will need to focus on user-centered design principles.