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X-Prize Ventures Further Into Biology: Millions May Be Up for Grabs for New Organs from Stem Cells and New Doctors from Software

A story in FierceBiotech reports that the X Prize Foundation, most famous for incentivizing Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, is considering a “stem cell” prize that would award $10 million to

“the first team to be able to create a lung, liver, or heart from the stem cell of a patient who is terminal, have that new organ transplanted into the patient and have them live for a year.”

This is not the Foundation’s first venture into biology.  The Archon X Prize for Genomics — still likely out of reach of current technology — will also award $10 million for

“the first Team that can build a device and use it to sequence 100 human genomes within 10 days or less… at a recurring cost of no more than $10,000 per genome.”

Nor will the stem cell prize be the last biology X Prize.  In the CNet interview noted by FierceBiotech, Foundation Chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis is enthusiastic about an “an artificial intelligence physician,” that can equal or best the diagnostic skills of a panel of 10 doctors.

Prizes are a valid alternative to patents as a method of incentivizing innovation, are widely used in IT, and have a long history of successes beginning with navigation in the 1700′s and food canning in the 1800′s. 

Although prizes seem to risk market distortion and intentionally duplicative efforts, the goals set out by the X Prize foundation — full-genome sequencing, new organs from our own cells, and accurate automated diagnoses — are as much the stuff of dreams as commercial space travel and cars that drive themselves.  These big dreams create beneficial externalities, like publicity for the ideas and fame for the winners, that encourage more students to take up similar challenges.

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