Elizabeth Holmes, Youngest to Make History in Medicine


Elizabeth Holmes (1984-Present)


American Founder and CEO of Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes, is interested in the importance of enabling early detection of disease through new diagnostic tools and empowering individuals to make educated decisions about their healthcare.


“I don’t want to make an incremental change in some technology in my life. I want to create a whole new technology, and one that is aimed at helping humanity at all levels regardless of geography or ethnicity or age or gender.“ – Elizabeth Holmes


Theranos, is a health technology and medical laboratory services company, which Holmes founded in 2003 at age 19 while she was at Stanford University as a chemical engineering major. The company was based on her invention and patent for a way to run 30 lab tests on one drop of blood. By 2014, the company offered 200 tests and was licensed to run in every state of the US. As of 2014, Holmes had 18 US patents and 66 non-US patents in her name and is listed as a co-inventor on over a hundred patent applications. She is the youngest self-made female billionaire on the Forbes 400 list, with an estimated net worth of $4.6 billion.


Holmes was born in February 1984 in Washington, D.C. Her father, Christian Holmes IV, worked in the United States, Africa and China as part of government agencies such as USAID. Her mother, Noel Anne (Daoust), worked as a Congressional committee staffer. She has a brother, Christian Holmes V, who is the director of product management at Theranos. One of her ancestors was a founder of the Fleischmann’s Yeast company. She is related to actress Katherine MacDonald who was married to Christian Rasmus Holmes II (1898-1944).


As a child, she read the biography of her great-great-grandfather Christian R. Holmes, who was a surgeon, engineer, inventor, and a decorated World War I veteran. He was born in Denmark in 1857 and was the dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where a hospital is named after him. The career of her ancestor inspired Elizabeth to take up medicine, but she soon found that she had a fear of needles. She later described this fear as one of her motivations to launch Theranos. Intrigued by their father’s work in China, Elizabeth and her brother learned Mandarin Chinese at a young age. She spent her teenage years in China, and while still in school, started a business selling C++ compilers to Chinese universities. After graduating from St. John’s School in 2002, Holmes enrolled at Stanford University to study chemistry. As a freshman, she was named one of the “President’s Scholars“ and given a stipend of $3,000 to pursue a research project. She persuaded her chemical engineering professor, Channing Robertson, to use the money for a project in his lab. Holmes supplemented her childhood knowledge of Mandarin with summer language programs at Stanford. This helped her obtain an internship at the Genome Institute of Singapore. The Institute was working on developing new methods to detect the SARS coronavirus in blood or nasal swabs. After her return to the US, she wrote a patent application on a wearable patch that would administer a drug, monitor variables in the patient’s blood, and adjust the dosage to achieve the desired effect. She showed her application to Professor Robertson, and told him they could put a cellphone chip on this patch for telemedicine. She filed the patent application in September 2003, as “Medical device for analyte monitoring and drug delivery“. Holmes proposed establishing a company to Professor Robertson in the fall of 2003, while she was a 19-year old sophomore at Stanford. She used money that her parents had saved for her education, to establish Real-Time Cures in Palo Alto. Later, she changed the company’s name to Theranos (an amalgam of “therapy“ and “diagnosis“), because she believed that many people had a cynical reaction to the word “cure“. Initially, she worked out of a basement of a group college house. A semester later, she dropped out to pursue her business career full-time. Professor Robertson served as a director of the company.


Over the next decade, the company grew gradually, raising $400 million from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Larry Ellison, among others. During this time, Theranos operated in “stealth mode“, remaining highly secretive to avoid potential competitors and investors who could fund a competitor. In 2007, it took three former employees to court, accusing them of misappropriating trade secrets. By 2014, the company offered 200 tests and was licensed to run in every state of the US. It had 500 employees and was valued at more than $9 billion. Holmes retained control of more than 50% of the company’s equity. As of 2014, Holmes has 18 US patents and 66 non-US patents in her name and is listed as a co-inventor on over a hundred patent applications. Holmes is the youngest self-made female billionaire on the Forbes 400 list, where she is #111 with an estimated net worth of $4.6 billion.


Elizabeth Holmes at TEDMED

Click to read what the New Yorker magazine, has to say about Elizabeth Holmes


More About Theranos




A number of startups are selling portable diagnostic laboratories that require just a drop of the patient’s blood, made possible by advances in the field of microfluidics. But perhaps lab tests can be made faster, easier and more accurate with a turn-of-the-last-century technology: automation. That’s the bet the Silicon Valley company Theranos is making, and the company recently sealed a deal with Walgreen’s Pharmacy to deliver on-site laboratory services to many of its stores. Henry Ford would recognize the principle that allows Theranos to complete accurate lab tests within four hours: Consistency and automation increase speed and bring price down. Even so, Theranos’s selling point is much smaller than a Model T: a capsule-sized lab vial, and just one needs to be filled for the company to run nearly any standard lab test.



Courtesy Theranos


Here’s how it works: Blood is drawn with a finger stick, rather than a needle in the arm. (It can also run urine tests with just a drop of that.) There are no botched sticks ? of course, there are no phlebotomists, only machines, in Therenos labs. The bad news for workers may be good news for accuracy because human handling of samples accounts for the lion’s share of variation among results. Automation eliminates spills, tests done in error and other mishandling of the sample. In a few cases, Theranos has designed new diagnostic methods to shave time from the process. The machines mete out bits of the “micro-sample“ for each test a doctor has ordered. In conventional testing, each test requires a dedicated vial, which adds dramatically to the amount of blood required. Theranos is even able to save some of the tiny sample in case the doctor requests further tests after seeing the initial results. All of the diagnostic technology is integrated, which increases precision. Each machine in a conventional lab may calibrate differently, and the mix of brands and ages means results come with an implied “or so“ at the end. Plotting results over time is therefore mostly useless. Theranos offers a full range of laboratory tests for a consistently lower cost than most labs do now, and its prices are readily available through a mobile app and on the company’s website. While a deal with Walgreen’s may not be a Silicon Valley dream, laboratory tests are a big lever in the health care system. In the U.S., they are the industry’s single highest volume activity, with over 5 billion tests performed every year according to a new Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center study. Access to Walgreen’s will help Theranos get quick-and-painless testing close to most Americans. Singularity Hub, a cutting edge website for innovative technology, is betting that the military will use the instant lab tests. The reason? The list of the company’s board of directors reads like a who’s who guide to recent American military history.



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