Using technological innovation to save you life is something the Mobile World Congress (MWC) has been advocating for years, but in a crisis health by the pandemic of the covid-19 its momentum has become a vital necessity . These days the technological congress hosted by Barcelona and l’Hospitalet de Llobregat has shown samples of how Catalan talent is pioneering the development of projects that can mark the health of the future.
This is the case of The Blue Box , a device devised by the biomedical engineer Judit Giró Benet that makes it possible to detect breast cancer through urine samples. Unlike mammograms , its use is not painful for women, nor is it an invasive radiation procedure that can spread your tumor.
“Many women do not have them because it causes them too much pain and that is a problem,” he explained in a telephone conversation with ‘El Periódico’. The device, which will be sold for about 50 euros, can be used at home without the need for medical or technical knowledge, as is already the case with fertility tests.
Although its use is simple, its operation is as complex as it is revolutionary. Inside that blue plastic box there are six chemical sensors that react to certain metabolites present in the urine and that are associated with breast cancer. These sensors send a signal to the cloud , where an algorithm of AI reads and sorts the sample for analysis with 95% confidence. In just 40 minutes, the results of the analysis reach the patient’s mobile.
“If there are certain dogs that can smell cancer, we can electronically reproduce that system,” explains Giró, only 24 years old. Thus, the box’s sensors operate like an overdeveloped nose while the cloud algorithm automatically mimics the functioning of a brain. The more women who use The Blue Box, the more its algorithm will be refined to more accurately detect early-stage tumors.
Giró devised this novel method as his research thesis at the University of Barcelona. During his development his mother suffered from breast cancer. And it is that eight out of ten women have developed tumors in the mammary glands or will, which makes it the third type of cancer with a greater impact on the population.
“Many times the pathologies that affect only women are forgotten,” he laments. The Blue Box does not do so and thus provides a technological and scientific response to an urgent health problem .
Currently, this California-based project is seeking funding through investment rounds and crowdfunding while initiating clinical studies and research in Catalonia. After that period, they will spend two years passing the regulatory controls of the European Union (EU) and the United States .
Then, in 2024, they will launch the product that they hope will “change the way society fights cancer.” Celebrated internationally, Giró’s idea was recognized last November with the James Dyson Award.
Lollipops to detect diseases
Another Catalan vision that is gaining attention is The Smart Lollipop , an intelligent lollipop that allows diagnosing, preventing and monitoring diseases through saliva. “We want to make the difficult easy, turn an experience as invasive for the little ones as a blood test into something more agile and simple,” explains Diana Ballart , executive director and co-founder of this young start-up.
The objective of this project is to detect cholesterol in children but they plan to open the focus to diagnose other global diseases such as celiac disease or malaria . “It can be used without much training and easily transported to reach underdeveloped countries,” adds Ballart. The target of The Smart Lollipop is children, but they do not rule out expanding the product for adult patients or the elderly.
His case is an example of the importance that the Catalan entrepreneurial ecosystem has in shaping disruptive ideas. And this project was born at the end of 2017 at IFEST, a competition in which up to 7,000 entrepreneurs compete to devise solutions to different challenges in just three hours.
The Smart Lollipop won that edition and received a grant from the Imagine Creativity Center to travel around Europe developing that idea, which landed the following year at 4YFN .
Since then, the project has grown. Thanks to public funding they have been able to dedicate themselves to research. This Monday begins its first round to attract private investment and next year clinical trials and regularization of the product will begin, which they hope will be released on the market by the end of 2023. “In the world of entrepreneurs the community is basic to create a bond ”, explains Ballart, celebrating the return of MWC. “An afternoon at 4YFN saves you a whole month to get contacts.”
Training in the virtual world
Other Catalan start-ups focused on the health sector have attended the Mobile rooms these days to publicize their projects and attract the attention of potential investors. This is the case of Immersium Studio , a spin-off of the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) that creates augmented reality experiences to improve the training of professionals from different sectors.
His interactive 360-degree videos are serving the Donation and Transplantation Institute for Organ Transplantation in teaching how to deliver bad news. The 4YFN also helped them to access a European loan that has allowed them to train more than 20,000 health professionals from across the continent, in 23 languages, on how to react to the covid.
“The ICUs have been seen in the past and many health professionals have had to acquire that experience in the midst of the emergency,” says Luis Villarejo , executive director of Immersium Studio. “We make sure they can do it without risking it in real life.”