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Idaho Company Offers Cholesterol Testing Kit

At the intersection of medical trends lies the road to success for Lifestream Diagnostics and its cholesterol testing kit.

The movement nationally toward in-home medical testing comes as doctors see their role changing from treaters of diseases to educators preventing illness. Christopher Maus believes his company has a product that complements both trends.

The book-sized Cholestron kit allows anyone to get a precise blood cholesterol reading in about six minutes, Maus said. That compares to spending an average of $83 for the test at a doctor’s.

Since cholesterol-related heart disease kills more Americans than any other cause, Maus believes that millions of Americans will want to have a machine that accurately tells them their blood cholesterol at their fingertips.

Maus has gathered letters of intent from large medical technology companies and marketing firms that are interested in making and selling Cholestron.

Realistically, Cholestron will be out in about a year, Maus said. With so much interest in the concept, he said Lifestream - a public company since 1992 - remains a ripe takeover possibility.

“We’re an attractive company at this point,” he said, which may lead to the company leaving North Idaho. “We’d like to be able to make this product in Sandpoint, but it doesn’t appear to be feasible at this point.”

Maus brought together blood chemistry and mechanical engineering experts from around the country to develop the Cholestron kit. Maus created the company to develop the idea in 1990.

The machine does more than assign a number to the amount of cholesterol in blood - the number that doctors say should be below 200. The machine will also determine the amount of “good” cholesterol, called high-density lipo-proteins, in the blood.

A software package asks the user to identify other lifestyle factors, such as how often they exercise and if they smoke. The program then assigns a heart risk factor based on the cholesterol level and the lifestyle of the user.

Whereas standard cholesterol testing requires a lot of whole blood, the Cholestron kit takes just a drop from the fingertip onto a special filter that allows a computer chip to determine the cholesterol level.

Maus said the filter system has impressed other chemists even more than the fast-working computer that determines the cholesterol level in about a minute.

Lifestream had carefully kept the wraps on the system until unveiling it at a recent trade show. A more public unveiling of the technology will happen in the fall, Maus said.

Cholestron still needs government approval to certify that its labeling is correct, Maus said.

Years of market research and careful design have gone into the product, and Maus expects big results.

“Doctors say that to get a consistent cholesterol reading that you need four to six tests over four to six weeks,” Maus said. “That’s not economical. This solves that problem.”

The units will cost about $200 to start, but could drop as low as $100 as the market grows. Maus’ research shows the market for home diagnostic equipment could grow to as much as $4 billion by the end of the decade.

Local cardiology professionals said the system could serve as an effective device to let people know whether they were at risk.

Dr. Elizabeth Sundberg, a blood lipid specialist in Spokane, said she thought it would be a good tool for identifying people at risk for heart disease.

However, Sundberg said that she prefers to use exceptionally precise lab equipment in the treatment of patients with high blood cholesterol. The Cholestron machine will measure levels to plus or minus five percent. Sundberg’s equipment’s margin of error is plus or minus two percent.

Others in the cardiology business also see the benefit of an inexpensive system to monitor cholesterol levels.

“I could see where something like that would have a high value as a screening tool,” said Debra Banks, a registered nurse at Coeur d’Alene Cardiology. “I can see it being used here in our office for people who don’t know their cholesterol level to find out if they need treatment.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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