Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable through cheap, one-time treatment. Yet the disease kills 270,00 per year, particularly in low-income countries. Israeli MobileODT uses smartphones to make global prevention a reality
Cervical cancer is an easily and cheaply preventable disease. In one session that costs approximately $28, doctors can successfully prevent abnormal cell changes within the cervix from developing into cancer. Still, this ailment killed nearly 270,000 women in 2012.
When you break down the statistics, an inordinate portion of these fatalities occur in developing areas, primarily in South and Central America and East Africa. The reason is that women in these healthcare-poor regions have limited, if any, access to lifesaving cervical cancer screenings. Deaths attributed to cervical cancer in these areas comprise 85% of the global total, making cervical cancer one of the deadliest cancers for women and an overall leader in cause of death for women in these developing countries.
The answer could be in your pocket
Tel Aviv based biomed startup MobileODT, which David Levitz and Ariel Beery launched in 2012 and have raised $3 million in grants since its inception (and an undisclosed amount of seed funding in September), has a strikingly simple solution. The technology behind the potentially life-saving company, which won the Vodafone Americas Foundation 2014 Wireless Innovation Project (back when it was called MobileOCT) and the 2015 MedTech Innovator competition, is cheap, accessible, and wide-ranging due to the global ubiquity of smartphones. Leveraging the optics and light source of smartphones, MobileODT has created a ground breakingly affordable and portable colposcope.
A colposcope is a magnification device used for imaging the cervix and is used during cervical cancer screenings. The problem is that the device is prohibitively expensive for those in countries without a developed healthcare system. Gynecologist and MobileODT partner Dr. Bruce Kahn described to Geektime how traditional colposcopes, like the one he uses at the hospital he works at in San Diego, can cost upwards of $10,000-15,000.
By pairing with the imaging capabilities of mobile phones, Mobile ODT has been able to reduce the price tag of their colposcope to an affordable $1,800, or $800 each if a clinic buys five or more.
At around 10% of the cost and size of a traditional colposcope, MobileODT’s product also does not sacrifice on capabilities, according to CEO and Co-Founder Ariel Beery. He explained that because his company’s product integrates with smartphones, it has complex abilities, like image processing algorithms and cloud capabilities that allow clinicians to outsource images to doctors abroad for further reference.
Cultural and resource barriers to overcome
While MobileODT has the potential to save thousands of lives by improving screening and making it more accessible in developing areas, obstacles lay ahead. Dr. Peter Thompson, a gynecologist, used MobileODT’s colposcope during his time working and researching at clinics in Guatemala. He lamented to Geektime about his time there, “The saddest part is when we find women with cervical cancer who may have even been tested a few years ago … If you have cervical cancer in Guatemala, even in an early stage, probability of a successful outcome is very low.”
For Dr. Thompson, the problem is that, “In Guatemala, you don’t have much experience in training with colposcopy.” With this said, he remained optimistic, saying, “We hope with the colposcope we could correlate that picture with the biopsy … [the] main value [of the colposcope] is that you have an image. Previously you would just draw a picture. Now you have an actual image.”
MobileODT Product Manager Alon Metgold informed Geektime that the startup currently has 12 pilot programs across the world, and is looking to invest more heavily in Kenya and East Africa, where cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. It is still awaiting FDA approval for its device, but Metgold told Geektime that the device also has applications in sexual assault documentation that will not need FDA approval to move forward. He also said that aside from cervical cancer screening, the device could have anal, oral, and dermal applications.
For Metgold, the company’s greatest hurdle is is an ideological one. He told Geektime, “I think that, especially when dealing with the developing world, there is a distance between the idea and the reality on the ground. [We must] bridge the gap between the idea in the west of communication and performing procedures, and actually doing it on the ground.” He hopes that with more research and FDA approval, MobileODT can fulfill its goal, which he described as, “Saving as many lives as soon as possible through mobile phones, and providing accessible and relevant healthcare to any woman around the world.”
For more information, watch CEO Ariel Beery’s presentation:
Featured Image Credit: MobileODT