In India, more than 436.76 million women above the age of 15 are at risk of developing cervical cancer. Almost 74,000 Indian women lose their lives every year to the disease despite doctors saying that if we detect it at an early stage, deaths due to cervical cancer can be prevented.
To tackle the issue, Indo-American researcher Nimmi Ramanujam has invented a device that can detect cervical cancer among women at an early stage without giving much pain. Not just that, the device costs only 3.33% of the cost of the device we are currently using in hospitals.
Ramanujam, who is a Professor at the Global Health Institute and Dept. Pharmacology and Cell Biology at Duke University, created the “Pocket Colposcope”, which detects cervical cancer in a painless form and costs only $500 while the device currently in use costs $15,000.
Talking about how she brought up the idea of inventing a low-cost, painless tool to detect cervical cancer, Ramanujam told SheThePeople.TV, “When I was in Moshi, Tanzania, and was talking to a gynaecologist there, I brought up this idea. He said that women were afraid of the speculum and there needed to be a more comfortable and non-intimidating way of doing visualization of the cervix.”
Ramanujam’s research focuses on women’ health, particularly breast and cervical cancer. Her aim has been to design innovations that enable complex referral services, often reserved for hospitals, to be accessible at the community/primary care level. The idea is to develop technologies to see and treat women with early stage disease in one visit and to develop tools that will make cancer treatment more effective.
Recently, AIIMS-Delhi successfully conducted trials on the Pocket Colposcope. According to reports, it is as easy to use a colposcope as connecting it to a mobile or laptop. It may also be a possible for women to self-screen.
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Ramanujam’s next step is to bring the device to the Indian market. She says, “We are in the process of commercializing the device and it should be on the market in 2019. The hope is that we can bring this technology to the community health setting as a way to increase access to colposcopy without having to visit a hospital. This technology could also serve as a low-cost alternative to colposcopy in a clinic or hospital setting.”
What Ramanujam believes in is reducing mortality from cervical cancer. She says, “There should, in principle, be zero deaths from cervical cancer as we know how to prevent it. But before doing that, one needs to understand what the barriers to it are. I would first start by asking what are the barriers to cervical cancer prevention in India? Advocacy and education are key to getting women to screen regularly and there are lots of efforts internationally to get women to be more aware of the disease. This is just as important as bolstering the health care system.”
About the device’s affordability and the thought-process that went into making it, Ramanujam said that she wanted to remove the distance between the traditional colposcope and the cervix – about 30 cm.
“There should, in principle, be zero deaths from cervical cancer as we know how to prevent it. But before doing that, one needs to understand what the barriers to it are. I would first start by asking what are the barriers to cervical cancer prevention in India?”
“The tampon inspired me to imagine a device that we can insert through the vaginal canal rather than looking at it from the outside. This dramatically decreases cost without impacting performance. The Pocket colposcope is as good as a traditional colposcope when it comes to image quality, but 100th the weight and more affordable.”
Ramanujam’s future goal is to develop diagnostic tools for breast cancer as well as low-cost therapeutic strategies as an alternative to surgery.
“My vision is that we will have precision diagnostic and low-cost therapy tools, as good as their traditional counterparts and can be made accessible without the need for extensive infrastructure. The NIH funded us to move forward on the translation of these precision diagnostic and therapeutic innovations,” added Ramanujam, who won the TR100 Young Innovator Award and the Global Indus Technovator award from MIT in 2003 and 2005 respectively.