Interesting Stories in the History of Diagnostics | Video Series

Episode 1:  The Dynamizer

In this installment of our "Interesting Stories in the History of Diagnostics" series, Dr. Mickey Urdea shares the story of the Dynamizer, a diagnostic device from the early 20th century which parallels the rise and fall of a more modern example - Theranos.

Episode 2:  What the Nose Knows

In this installment of our "Interesting Stories in the History of Diagnostics" series, Dr. Mickey Urdea chronicles the history of the use of smell in diagnostics, from Hippocrates to present day cancer-sniffing dogs (yes, really!).

Episode 3:  This Wormy World

In the third episode of our "Interesting Stories in the History of Diagnostics" series, Dr. Mickey Urdea expounds on the history of diseases caused by helminths - aka parasitic worms! Helminth diseases still affect more than 1.5 billion people worldwide (24% of the world's population!) today, and properly testing for the presence of worms is a challenge that the diagnostics industry continues to master. From being the subject of Charles Darwin's best-selling book (really!) to being the impetus for the founding of the Rockefeller Foundation, worms have had a surprisingly significant effect on diagnostics history.

Episode 4 (Part One): "Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em!" Part One

In this two-part episode of Interesting Stories in the History of Diagnostics, Dr. Mickey Urdea is discussing bacteria, and why we "Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em!" Part One of this two-part series canvasses the history of bacteria from the earth's formation to the modern day, and where to find them from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to inside of our own bodies. Tune in for Part Two coming up soon to hear about the history of bacterial culture, sequencing, and amplification methods, and how those developments changed how we diagnose and treat bacterial diseases!

Episode 4 (Part Two):  "Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em!" Part Two

In Part Two of Dr. Mickey Urdea's foray into the history of bacteria, the focus is on the history of bacterial culture, sequencing, and amplification methods, and how those developments changed how we diagnose and treat bacterial diseases! From the work of two-time Nobel laureate biochemist Fred Sanger to the most advanced sequencing panels of the present day and how they're being utilized, Part Two covers it all.

Episode 5:  “A • B • C • D • eDNA!”

This week, Dr. Mickey Urdea is exploring eDNA, or environmental DNA, and its uses and applications in diagnostics! Tune in to hear about wastewater testing, just how much DNA can be found outside of a zoo, and why the half-life of DNA means that we’ll never have a Jurassic Park (sorry, kids!).

Episode 6:  “Within Spitting Distance of Saliva!”

In episode 6, we’re not reading tea leaves -  we’re reading saliva! Saliva is a particularly interesting series of compounds that can tell a surprisingly detailed story of a person’s health, and it can be used to test for a variety of different biomarkers which can correlate to a particular disease state, including tests for HIV antibodies, SARS-CoV-2, and even certain forms of cancer! From Yale University’s SalivaDirect protocol for Covid-19 detection to dentists looking to test for oral cancer while they fill a cavity, commonly using saliva as a convenient sample is within spitting distance!

Episode 7: “Going Viral With Viral Load!”

Today, Dr. Mickey Urdea gets to discuss his own achievements as the inventor of “viral load”, or the quantitative measure of viral RNA, and as the leader of the team at Chiron Corporation to first utilize this method in order to monitor the effectiveness of antiviral therapy for HIV patients over time – in fact, it’s the method that is still used today! Come hear the story straight from the source, with behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the initial pushback against viral load testing, the Chiron team (and their collaborators) behind the development of the test, and viral load’s path to acceptance in the medical community.

Episode 8:  “Do We Have a Quorum?"

In this episode, Dr. Mickey Urdea asks, "Do we have a quorum?" Quorum sensing, that is! Gather round by the light of the bobtail squid to learn more about this phenomenon which allows certain bacteria to “think” collectively as a group in order to express bioluminescence, competence, virulence, and even pathogenesis, and why Mickey believes that quorum sensing has potential dynamic applications in diagnostics.

Episode 9: "Weighing In On The Biggest Loser!"

This week, Dr. Mickey Urdea is weighing in on the reality TV show, "The Biggest Loser"! Having collaborated with the chief medical officer for three seasons of the show's run, Mickey provides a unique perspective on the science behind the extreme weight loss featured in the competition, and he gives the skinny on how, based solely on their bloodwork, he was able to predict contestants' elimination weeks ahead of time!

Episode 10: “You Must Be Pollen My Leg!"

On this week’s episode, Dr. Mickey Urdea is reviewing palynology, the study of grain, pollen, and other spores, and its use in forensics! Dr. Urdea covers how palynology has been used (or underused) in the 20th century, and discusses two specific criminal cases in which convictions have been determined with palynological evidence. And he's not pollen your leg!

Episode 11:  “Going With The Lateral Flow!”

On this episode, Mickey Urdea is going with the flow - the lateral flow! The most commonly known type of lateral flow assay is the pregnancy test, but now with self-tests for Covid-19, LFAs are more popular than ever! Mickey gives you the rundown on the development of LFAs and their components, the different common targets for lateral flow tests, and where the technology is today and where it is going (or flowing).

Episode 12: “Feeling Nutsy for Ötzi!”

“Ötzi the Iceman was a jolly happy soul…” Today, Mickey Urdea is discussing Ötzi the Iceman, the natural mummy discovered by accident in 1991 frozen atop the Ötztal Alps between Austria and Italy (which is, of course, how he got his nickname). Besides being the oldest natural mummy of the Copper Age, Ötzi’s story is a tale of international intrigue, unearthed ancient diseases and their possible contemporary therapeutics, and a murder investigation over 5000 years in the making. Buckle your snowshoes, and get ready to discover how we’ve come to know so much about our dear Ötzi, and how we can use that information to learn more about how modern humans got to where we are now.

Episode 13: “This Wormy World!” Part Two – An Interview with Govert Van Dam

Dr. Mickey Urdea doesn't want to stir up a can of worms, but he's returning to "This Wormy World"! On this episode, Dr. Urdea gets the opportunity to interview Dr. Govert Van Dam, a Senior Researcher for the Leiden Parasitology Diagnostics Group (ParaDiag) at the Leiden University Medical Centre. Together, Mickey and Govert, a worldwide expert on the detection of schistosomiasis, unpack the latest research on schistosoma-targeted antigen tests, weigh in on so-called "rope worms" and delusional parasitosis, and even get to wax poetic on the cement industry! Bait your hook and cast your line for part two of "This Wormy World".

After having performed his study of Chemistry with a major in Analytical Chemistry, at the University of Utrecht, Govert Van Dam started in 1988 as a Ph.D. student at the Department of Parasitology of the Medical Faculty of the Leiden University (later LUMC). He obtained his doctorate degree (cum laude) with the thesis 'Circulating gut–associated antigens of Schistosoma mansoni: biological, immunological, and molecular aspects', under prof. dr. A.M. Deelder, in 1995. Towards the end of his Ph.D. and after, he contributed as a research scientist to the following projects: "Epidemiology, serology and chemotherapy of Schistosoma in a recently exposed community near Richard Toll, Senegal" (STD3 –EG, 1993-1995), "Field applicable antigen assays for human schistosomiasis: a multi-centre development and implementation study" (INCO-DC EG, 1997 – 2001), "Diagnostic Tests for Tropical Diseases" (Biopartner First Stage Grant, 2005-2007), "Multi-disciplinary studies of human schistosomiasis in Uganda, Kenya and Mali: New perspectives on morbidity, immunity, treatment and control" (INCO EU, 2006 – 2010), and “Enhancing the CAA Assay for Diagnosis of Schistosomiasis” (SCORE, 2010 – currently). Overall, Dr. van Dam has experience for 25 years in research on schistosome circulating antigens and development of highly sensitive and specific immunodiagnostic assays, including field-applicable assays. One of the tests is now outsourced to a company in South-Africa and available as a commercial assay (urine POC-CCA,

Episode 14: “The Physician Who Knows Syphilis Knows Medicine!”

In the next installment of “Interesting Stories in the History of Diagnostics”, Mickey Urdea is catching you up on syphilis, the evolution of its symptoms and treatment over seven centuries, and the still hotly-debated subject of whether “the great pox” was originally an Old World or a New World disease! After all, the first recorded European case of “the great imitator” took place in 1495, right after the beginning of the so-called Columbian Exchange, but contemporaneous accounts vary, which makes for a particularly curious diagnostic puzzle. Come get the inside scoop on the infection that plagued so many throughout history, from Al Capone to Mozart - syphilis!

Episode 15: “Waste Not, Want Not, With Wastewater!”

This week, we’re getting to the very last drop on the subject of wastewater testing! Hot in the news after recent occurrences of polio and monkeypox, as well as for the continued monitoring of Covid-19, wastewater testing is the future of public health monitoring. Breakthroughs in wastewater screening by the CDC and at UC San Diego, among others, have expanded the scope and capabilities of wastewater testing, but ethics questions on who and what to test for have us up to our knees in you-know-what! From the toilet bowl to the petri dish, get to know what’s in your wastewater.

Episode 16: "The Clock Is Ticking On Tick-Borne Diseases!" 

Tick tock, it’s time for some tick talk! On this episode, Mickey is discussing tick-borne diseases – their causes, their related detection technologies, and why climate change might exacerbate the problem worldwide. Lyme Disease receives much of the spotlight (especially given its many famous cases, including Shania Twain and Yolanda and Bella Hadid), but even Lyme is not fully understood (or agreed upon) and there are at least 18 known tick-borne diseases in the United States alone! Don’t let this subject matter get under your skin, just tune in for “The Clock Is Ticking on Tick-Borne Diseases!”

Episode 17: "Not a Drop of Truth: The Impossible Promise of Theranos"

On October 17th, 2022, Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of the now-bankrupt diagnostics company Theranos, will be sentenced after her conviction for one count of wire fraud conspiracy and three substantive wire fraud counts relating to the scheme to defraud investors, including wire transfers totaling more than $140 million. She faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution, for the conspiracy count and each count of wire fraud... but before all of that, investors fell for Theranos's technology. How were they deceived in the first place? And why did Theranos’s fingerprick diagnostic system NOT work as claimed? Could that technology with such small blood sample sizes ever conceivably detect of all the things they claimed?

On this special episode of "Interesting Stories in the History of Diagnostics", Halteres Associates founding partner Mickey Urdea answers all of those questions and more with the assistance of associate Scott Eastman. Mickey met with Theranos all the way back in 2006 and quickly concluded that their technology was never going to work - but how? And why were so many others fooled? Tune in to find out, as Mickey and Scott walk you through the actual biochemistry fundamentals behind the impossible promise of Theranos!

Episode 18: “Don’t Hold Your Breath!” 

On Episode 18 of “Interesting Stories in the History of Diagnostics”, Mickey Urdea is reviewing breath-based diagnostics, or what is transpiring with transpiration! Exhaled breath holds many secrets beyond what you ate for breakfast, and analysis of the compounds in breath can help to diagnose SARS-CoV-2, gastrointestinal disorders, and even lung cancer (among many others). New instruments and technologies are emerging and succeeding in the post-pandemic landscape, so it's not a waste of breath to say that breath-based diagnostics are the new frontier in non-invasive sample collection! Don't hold your breath, just tune in, for "Don't Hold Your Breath"!

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