From Unicorn To Disaster: Elizabeth Holmes’ Guide to Mass Deception

Nithusa Sinnadurai, Staff Writer

Amidst this global pandemic, the ever-deceiving trail of Elizabeth Holmes was pushed back to July 13th, 2021. To understand the complexity behind her case it’s best to start off by understanding who Elizabeth Holmes is, better known as one of Silicon Valley’s greatest failures.

Holmes, a driven, chemical engineering student with a thirst for success, dropped out of Stanford University at the age of 19 to dedicate herself to her idea of a “medical device for analyte monitoring and drug delivery”. By 2003, the company Theranos was created and marketed as a device that tests for medical conditions with solely just the blood obtained by a pinprick. This is opposed to the more traditional method for conducting a blood test by obtaining a syringe full of blood and then having it be tested at a hematology lab. As simple and convenient as it may sound, it was not practical.

Theranos’ first design, Edison, would have to compact the components of the industrial-sized machine from the hematology lab into a small computer sized-device. Components such as thermocycler (used to change the temperature to aid in chemical reactions), cytometer (counts cells in the provided sample) and spectrophotometer (measures the intensity of light absorbed after it is beamed through a sample), etc. all require a vast amount of space to function efficiently and accurately. However, having these complicated components forced into a smaller box can lead to interference.

In addition to component interference, testing for various different medical conditions requires a lot more blood than a simple pinprick. In a traditional setting, the blood taken is basically spun around until the contents in the blood are separated into Plasma, Buffy coat, and Hematocrit, however with a pinprick of blood, this is inconceivable. 

With a faulty device, Theranos had already taken its first step towards danger, and Holmes’ future decisions completely threw the company into a complete disaster. Holmes had built her $9 billion empire based on a foundation of lies. Holmes continued to push investors towards Theranos and failed to reveal Edison’s inability to conduct accurate blood tests. In continuation with her pattern of unethical behavior, Holmes falsified reports about Edison’s accuracy, to get approval for her experiment to use cancer patients as her test subjects.

Not only was it unethical, but this test also puts the patients in an extremely dangerous situation as these results contribute to approximately 70% of doctors’ decisions; these results ultimately decide whether or not to increase/decrease patient’s medication and a mistake can quickly become fatal. However, the self-made billionaire refused to acknowledge her immorality, even when her first CFO, Henry Mosley, questioned her about the company’s false reports resulting in his job to be terminated, leaving Theranos without a CFO for around 7 years. In 2010, Walgreens and Safeway struck a $180 million deal with Theranos wherein the health section of their stores would consist of blood testing stations for customers to use.

No matter how much money was invested in Theranos, the company was never able to deliver its promise. In 2012, with approximately $350 million dollars spent on renovations, Safeway made room for Theranos’ machine to take its place in the store. Safeway was met with Therano’s delayed launches and several excuses. When the time had finally arrived for Theranos to test Safeway employees’ samples, Holmes had the samples tested on a separate third-party blood test machine as opposed to the Edison. Holmes kept Safeway satisfied by providing the impression the Theranos was conducting these medical tests when in reality they were barely functioning.

Rumors shortly started to stir as skeptics grew concerned with Theranos’ constant growing success. When the FDA conducted unannounced inspections, Edison only managed to conduct 12 of 250 blood tests with results remaining inconsistent. Finally, by October 2015, Wall Street journalist John Carreyou published his investigation on Theranos. By lifting this veil that surrounded Theranos, it consequently shone a light on Elizabeth Holmes, exposing the mass deception she had conducted. It didn’t long for Holmes’ shaky empire to come crumbling down, by July 2016 she was prohibited for the lab-test industry. The final nail coffin was slammed as Theranos closed its doors on its lab operations and wellness centers. 

Now Holmes and Ramesh (Sunny) Balwani; Theranos’ Chief Operating Officer now face numerous lawsuits, over $2.7 million dollar fines, and up to 20 years in prison. Spectators now watch in awe as Holmes’ web of lies detangles and presents itself, it’s nearly unbelievable how Silicon Valley’s favourite unicorn who had provided so many interviews, TedTalks, and received several awards can now lie down in history as Silicon Valley’s greatest disaster.

Photo by Testalize.me, Unsplash

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