Health technology: Fighting breast cancer with AI & ML

By: | Published: November 21, 2018 3:44 AM

breast cancer, cancer, cancer treatmentNiramai founders Geetha Manjunath with Nidhi Mathur.

Bengaluru-based Niramai’s breakthrough innovation, Thermalytix, has redefined diagnostic solutions for breast cancer by applying Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques to overcome not just technological, but also socio-cultural limitations. Thermalytix is a unique diagnostic tool, which combines thermal imaging technique and artificial intelligence, to detect breast cancer at an early stage.

“The current standard for breast screening is mammography. While mammography is a great tool, it has some limitations. It is not applicable to women under 40 years of age and women with dense breasts. Since it uses X-Ray based screening, it cannot be used for regular annual screening due to risks of radiation,” says Geetha Manjunath, CEO & CTO, Niramai. “Another method used for breast screening in younger women is ultrasound. While that is an effective technique for women with a breast lump, it requires a highly skilled radiologist for preventive screening. However in India, given the access and cost issues, most people in India detect breast abnormalities when they accidentally find it or during self-breast exams.”

Niramai’s Thermalytix solution uses a high-resolution thermal sensing device and an in-house developed patented software to scan the chest area for any thermal abnormality. The screening procedure is very simple. The lady walks into a small booth with a thermal sensor placed three feet from her. Niramai software analyses the thermal images to generate a diagnostic report that gives a breast health score and marks the location of abnormality in the thermal image. Approximately 400,000 temperature values and various clinical parameters are analysed to detect the abnormality, if any. There is no touch or radiation involved in the process.

Incorporated in July 2016 by Geetha Manjunath and Nidhi Mathur who wanted to take to market a novel idea they had been working on since 2014 as an exploratory project in a multinational research lab, Niramai’s big challenge was to prove the clinical validity of the solution and get acceptance from the medical community. It worked with major hospitals in India to conduct clinical trials and publish in international journals to establish the efficacy of the solution. The results from these trials have helped gain the trust of expert radiologists and ensure product rollout.

“The first big challenge we faced, was the funds needed to own the intellectual property since the initial IP was developed by us when we were employees at our previous organisation. We had to raise a seed round within three months in order to ensure that Niramai could own the IP,” Manjunath recalls.

Dr. Sudhakar, breast imaging expert at HCG, a leading cancer treatment hospital chain which uses Niramai’s solution for diagnosis of breast cancer among its patients, sees immense value in a health-tech innovation like Thermalytix that makes healthcare more accessible to people. “Community screenings for breast cancer, traditionally, call for huge investments in machines (as well as their maintenance) and ample manpower.

However, with a portable, low-cost device that takes high-resolution thermal images, which require no radiation, breast cancer detection can be a lot easier and cost-effective, especially in rural areas as well as tier-2 and tier-3 cities,” says Dr Sudhakar. Currently, Niramai is working with hospitals and diagnostic labs in three states in India and plans to expand to other parts of the country this year.

“Our plan is to expand beyond India by the middle of next year. We expect the test to be incorporated in clinical practice as a standard preventive screening tool that requires minimal skills to operate, making breast cancer detection accessible to every woman, dramatically increasing efficiency, and saving money in the bargain,” Manjunath concludes.

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