When Lou Auguste discovered that hundreds of thousands of women die of cervical cancer in the developing world each year, the film producer-turned-tech-entrepreneur was distressed. Even more distressing was the fact that many of those deaths were preventable: when diagnosed early, cervical cancer has over a 90% cure rate.
Auguste, who is of Haitian descent, set out to ameliorate the situation in Haiti and other countries where a lack of equipment and shortages of trained pathologists were contributing to that dismal death rate. The solution, he realized, was telepathology — the use of telecommunications technology to transmit image-rich pathology data from the field to medical personnel working remotely.
Setbacks in starting a technology company should only make you stronger, say entrepreneurs
For every technology start-up that makes it big, another nine fail — and it can happen at startling, hugely stressful speed. “We are always on the brink of making it big or losing everything,” Sean Percival, an American entrepreneur and former MySpace executive, wrote on his blog in February, having just learnt that the co-founder of Ecomom, a young company that sold eco-friendly products for children, had committed suicide of an apparent blip of his business.
Throughout history, light has been a symbol of knowledge. Technology and innovation are dependent upon our ability to see. As we improved our optical systems our ability to know the world around us improved. Magnifying glasses gave way to eyeglasses, telescopes, microscopes and cameras. The telescope improved our ability to navigate the seas and the microscope improved our ability to see the tiny world around us and inside of us. The history of the modern world stands on the shoulders of giants whose work with optics led to remarkable advancements in other fields. The great philosopher Baruch Spinoza was a famous lens grinder, Michael Faraday as a young man worked in a lens making factory, and Isaac Newton’s early experiments in optics began a body of work that left us with Calculus.
Manufacturing today has become very advanced, and we’ve largely mastered the craft of making excellent lenses. Today’s optics are advanced by software and new form factors that are reducing the cost of expensive optical equipment. High resolution digital cameras are a part of our everyday lives. People take high quality photographs and videos with their smartphones. Cinema continues to push the boundaries of high quality digital cinematography.
The Open Mobile Telepathology System (OMT) is a combination of two components, the Pocket Electronic Health Record (pEHR) and the Mobile Whole Slide Imaging (mWSI) app. This system was created over the course of this study to help reduce the cost of telepathology in developing countries. The affordable system as described will help to expedite the diagnostic process in low-resource environments and provide more patients with better health outcomes. The OMT system offers a number of advantages to the standard Whole Slide Imaging machines. It can be deployed at a fraction of the cost, the images are more easily transportable at an average image size of less than 500 MBs and any worker, even someone without any knowledge of pathology, can perform the scans; also, components can be replaced and upgraded at a minimal cost, offering a large advantage to low resource and rural environments. The OMT system utilises a standard light microscope with a custom built 3D adaptor and the iPhone 5s. Acquired mWSIs can be transported through the cloud using the pEHR database and accessed through web and mobile platforms. Therefore it can be used in any part of the world with an Internet connection. The study follows the step-by-step process used to acquire mWSIs of various stains including H&E stains, and thin preps. The results of the tests have been found to be of a diagnostic quality and the imaging process as described has been optimised and standardised over the course of the 2-year study.
There’s some cool stuff getting made at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. Lots of it was built with some sort of social mission as well, but across the board we saw a wide array of technical creativity on display at the school Friday, at its 2015 Research Expo, which featured creations from both undergrads and graduate students.
NYU had projects sorted by discipline, such as computer science, games, civil engineering and mechanical and aerospace engineering. We tried to hit at least one project in each group (sorry, math).
100 years ago, cervical cancer reigned as the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States
Then, a doctor at Cornell University began conducting studies on the sex cycle of guinea pigs and in 1915 realized that a similar “smear” technique could be applied to the study of human vaginal cells. A few decades of disinterest and skepticism later, the Pap smear became the standard cancer screening test for women. Today, the cervical cancer death rate has plunged by more than 50 percent and ranks 14th in frequency in the United States.
BitTorrent, an open-source protocol for peer-to-peer file sharing that is used to distribute large amounts of data over the Internet, was created to replace HTTP, which was originally implemented to move text and small images. However, the size of data sets moving across the Internet greatly exceeded what was imaginable with HTTP, which was introduced in the early 1990s. So, the BitTorrent protocol was introduced in 2001 to do the heavy lifting more efficiently, harnessing a distributed approach to data transfer. BitTorrent Inc. was established in 2004 to be custodians of the protocol, and to introduce additional protocols and software apps based on distributed technology.
Team Live Longer was established three years ago as a collaborative effort between Brooklyn-based AlexaPath and the Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad (AMHE). Cervical cancer currently affects over 270,000 women a year in developing nations, making it the 4th most common cause of cancer death for women. Haiti has the highest mortality rate from cervical cancer in the world. Cases often go undiagnosed for extended periods of time due to the country’s pathology shortage. Women do not realize they are sick until symptoms present themselves, and at that point, treatment options are few. When detected early, cervical cancer has a survival rate of over 90%.
Lou Auguste is disrupting the medical imaging industry and cervical cancer diagnosis. Why? His company wants to reduce cervical cancer mortality rates by using smartphones to turn microscopes into medical imaging devices. He is specifically targeting under-served countries bereft of an adequate number of pathologists.
Auguste left the film industry for the tech startup life inside the boiler room. In the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, he went to Haiti for a year to help with the recovery. Among a plethora of problems, Auguste witnessed hospital shortages and wanted to do something to help.
Nine hardware entrepreneurs were selected as the winners of the 2015 ASME Innovation Showcase (ISHOW), a global competition with events in India, Kenya and the United States. This year marked the first time that the program, which highlights hardware-led social innovations that improve the quality of life in communities around the world, was presented outside of the United States.
Ten finalists faced off at each of the competitions, where they pitched and demonstrated their products in front of a panel of experts. In addition to winning a share of $150,000 in cash prizes, each of the nine winners also received an extensive design and engineering review from a team of industry experts.
Akash Agarwal, Syauqy Aziz and Rajeev Kumar were selected as the winners of the inaugural ISHOW in India. The event, which was held in partnership with Villgro Innovations, took place April 20 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Pune, in conjunction with the ASME Additive Manufacturing+3D Printing Conference.