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Cue health tracker brings molecular-level testing to iOS

With pedometers, smartwatches and other passive connected health-related products carving out a niche in the iOS device accessories market, tech startup Cue is looking to take the "quantified self" much further with an ambitious project that gathers, tracks and interpolates biological samples on the molecular level.

The culmination of four years of research and development, Cue's eponymous device is a small, modular, noninvasive hardware solution that unlocks key health information previously available only from specialized diagnostics laboratories.

Cue packs in high-tech biosensors and an advanced microfluidic system that converts biological samples into digital data. After processing in the cloud, users can track metrics on their iPhone to make informed lifestyle decisions regarding eating, sleeping and exercising, among other activities.

Company cofounder and CEO Ayub Khattak said the idea for Cue has roots in the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

"We were seeing how the whole [health industry] system was really inefficient in getting people the information they wanted at that time, which was 'do I have swine flu or not,'" Khattak said. "If people could just have a simple hardware product in their homes that allowed them to find out this information easily, then everything would change about how we reacted to that situation."

From there, Khattak looked at the then-burgeoning field of smartphone-connected health devices fueled by the popularity of Apple's iPhone and flexible iOS software platform. Paying attention to the metrics most consumers were interested in tracking, Cue developed its suite of tests and accompanying tracking app.

When it launches in early 2015, Cue will have separate disposable cartridges that test for five distinct molecular indicators relating to inflammation, Vitamin D, fertility, influenza and testosterone. Each metric has a different marker that, when measured and tracked, can be used to discover trends, monitor progress and help users gain realtime insight on their bodies.

Cue with portable carrying case.

According to Cue cofounder and Chief Product Officer Clint Sever, much of the three-year R&D period was spent fusing the two core technologies into an appealing consumer device. Aside from the in-house biosensors, the bespoke microfluidic system allows Cue to handle small amounts of human sample in a way that is both powerful and cost effective.

"Taking these fundamental laboratory principles and technologies and packing them into a system anyone can use was really the key challenge in developing the product," Sever said.

On the hardware side, Cue is built on a modular platform with a small rectangular device serving as a type of base station that accepts single-use cartridges for various molecular testing. Weighing in at less than a pound, Cue is portable and can be taken to the gym or office for on-the-go readings.

Each cartridge tests for a different indicator by sampling saliva, blood or fluid from a nasal swab with an included sample wand. The base station automatically determines when a sample cartridge and sample wand are present, processes the biological sample and sends the resulting digitized data to an iPhone via Bluetooth 4.0. Charging is accomplished via the Qi wireless standard.

The Cue app then aggregates test data into a timeline called Life Feed — or broken off into dedicated sections for each indicator — for easy viewing or to share with friends and family members. In addition, the app can also use collected data to pull down food and exercise recommendations from the cloud. For example, if a user's Vitamin D levels are low, Cue may suggest a smoothie or some fruit and can schedule the task in a user's calendar.

Cue app showing Life Feed user activity.

The following tests will be available when Cue launches:

  • Inflammation Optimize your workouts, recovery, and heart health by tracking C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation. In response to stimulus like injury or chronic illness the body produces CRP, which many experts agree is the best overall marker of inflammation. Cue helps you manage your recovery from exercise, provide dietary recommendations to support a healthy cardiovascular system and lower your inflammation with smart lifestyle recommendations for activity and foods like kale and Omega-3 rich wild-caught salmon.
  • Vitamin D Stay balanced and healthy by tracking vitamin D. Nicknamed the "sunshine vitamin", vitamin D is actually a hormone produced by the body when sunlight strikes the skin. Smart recommendations from Cue help you schedule time in the sun to boost your vitamin D and elevate your mood, support for stronger bones, and improve your overall health.
  • Fertility Understanding the hormones in your body can provide you with an easy, predictable way on when it is the best time to try and maximize the chance to get pregnant. Maximize your chances of pregnancy by tracking Luteinizing Hormone (LH) levels. LH regulates fertility and tracking LH levels is the only method proven to indicate your peak time of fertility with accuracy. Visualize your LH levels as an indicator of fertility trends, discover new food choices proven to support fertility, and get alerts when LH is peaking so you know it's time to try.
  • Influenza Detecting flu early helps you and your loved ones can get better, faster. Influenza can cause mild to severe illness with symptoms like fever, runny nose, cough, body aches, and fatigue. If Cue detects flu, start the conversation with your physician so you can get on track to the treatment you need, faster than ever before.
  • Testosterone Maximize your performance, energy, and focus by tracking your free testosterone levels. Testosterone is a hormone that builds muscle mass, strength, bone health, and fuels sex drive. Discover how exercise like sprinting and strength can training boost your natural testosterone levels, and receive recommendations to optimize your diet to amplify your performance both inside and outside the gym.

As far as accuracy is concerned, controls were established by comparing Cue's performance in extrapolating data from biological samples against existing laboratory tests. The device is still considered a "consumer health product," however, and it remains to be seen how useful the generated information can be in real life scenarios.

To that end, Cue preorder customers will be invited to take part in a usability study that will help the device on its path to FDA clearance.

Cue is available for preorder today in limited quantities through the company's website. The first 1,000 units sold are priced at $149, while the remainder will go for $199 until stock is exhausted. When Cue hits store shelves in spring of next year, it will retail for $300.