Health Tech Matters

Seventh Sense promises a painless way to draw blood — we tried it, and barely felt a thing

Key Points
  • Seventh Sense Biosystems showed us its small and portable device to take blood.
  • The experience was virtually painless.
A new device promised a painless way to draw blood — we gave it a try

Finding less painful and more efficient ways to draw blood is a holy grail for medical entrepreneurs.

Seventh Sense Biosystems, a start-up based in Massachusetts, is among the furthest along in this quest. This year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved its TAP device for use in hemoglobin A1C testing.

The company claims that its device is virtually painless, so I opted to give it a try at the CNBC offices.

The company's chief business officer Stuart Blitz placed the device my upper arm. After he hit a green button, 30 microneedles pierced the outer layers of my skin and quickly retracted. I didn't feel a thing until the device starting sucking up about 100 microliters of my blood, and even then I barely noticed it.

After a button on the device turned red, Blitz peeled it off and fit me with a small band-aid to prevent any errant drips from staining my clothes.

All told, it was about the easiest and least painful blood collection experience that I've ever experienced. And soon, I might be able to try it on my own. The company is hoping that it can get approval in the coming months for anyone to take their own blood at home. In Arizona, consumers can order their own tests without a doctor's note.

So how is Seventh Sense any different than Theranos, the disgraced start-up that promised to be able diagnose hundreds of diseases with a few drops of blood? (That claim has now been debunked).

Blitz stressed the many differences between his company and Theranos. For starters, Seventh Sense collects far more blood than a couple of drops from a fingerstick test. And it doesn't perform any diagnostic tests, focusing instead on novel approaches to blood collection.

That's still a worthwhile goal, said Blitz, given that millions of people — children, infants, those on certain medications — still have an aversion to traditional venous blood draws.

Moreover, the market for direct-to-consumer lab testing is on the rise and expected to surpass $350 million by 2010, according to a 2016 report. Seventh Sense has raised $33 million in financing to date.

In the coming months, Seventh Sense is hoping that the FDA will green-light its technology for other common tests. And it is also developing a new device to collect a larger volume — some 250 microliters — for tests that require more blood. That's still far less than a traditional blood sample.

For labs, less blood means potential cost-savings on supplies and human labor. "At least 60 to 70% of blood is discarded from a venous blood draw," said Blitz.