Non-touch, radiation-free and easy breast examinations? NIRAMAI makes it possible
The painful tests for detecting breast cancer discourage many women to not go for regular examinations, despite being advised to. This can, however, lead to late diagnosis of the disease, which can end up being fatal. But with Dr. Geetha Manjunath's NIRAMAI, women can now avail radiation-free, non-invasive, non-touch, breast cancer screenings. She spoke to NewsBytes about her award-winning deep-tech start-up and much more.
Dr. Manjunath's success story started years ago. She was a member of the C-DAC team, which built India's first commercial supercomputer in the 1990s. She later worked at Hewlett Packard Laboratories, before moving to another MNC as Lab Director. Dr. Manjunath was involved in several real-life projects using the upcoming technology of Artificial Intelligence (AI) when a personal tragedy hit her.
"A very close cousin of mine was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. In a bid to help, I began reading a lot and also wondered if we could use AI for detecting breast cancer," she says. "With the help of an imaging expert, I began a small research project that used thermal imaging to detect breast cancer," she adds.
Dr. Manjunath's thermal imaging research project went on for two years, but she noticed that while the technology was working well, it was not completely error-free. This led to a turn of events, and along with three of her colleagues, Dr. Manjunath quit an MNC in order to fully dedicate herself to invent a non-invasive device that can detect abnormalities in the breast.
Since its inception, NIRAMAI has organized several health camps. Dr. Manjunath says that the privacy-aware screening makes it comfortable for women to open up about their issues. "Women, especially in rural areas, are happy to do the test because primarily, their health concerns are never voiced out. I've even seen cases where women have had lumps and they couldn't tell anyone," she shares.
NIRAMAI is the only Indian company listed on the 2019 Top AI 100 start-ups in the world, as announced by CB Insights. The company has also won many awards including the Gold prize in Hack Osaka, Aegis Graham Bell Award, Frost & Sullivan Award, etc.
The core technology of NIRAMAI is called Thermalytix that uses a high-resolution thermal sensing device and cloud-hosted AI-based solution for analyzing thermal images. A curtain separates the technician and the patient, and the radiation-free, non-invasive test is conducted. This means that women with a family history of breast cancer can get the examination done every six months, without the damaging side-effects of radiation.
Interestingly, NIRAMAI's thermal imaging expertise is also being experimented with on other verticals. During the pandemic, the start-up launched FeverTest - a screening technique that detects fever and respiratory abnormalities amid large crowds - from a distance. In addition, NIRAMAI has launched some quick home breast screening services, aimed at those who may be missing their annual check-ups due to the pandemic.
When asked about her expansion plans, Dr. Manjunath says that NIRAMAI is not limited to breast cancer detection alone, and research is being conducted on using Thermalytix for screening other types of cancers. The company has also been approved by CE Mark and intends to expand to European and African countries as well. We wish Dr. Manjunath and her team the very best!