Cancer is one of the most deadly conditions that exist on the planet today. The disease is the most devastating and traumatic experience a cancer patient and their families can go through for the fact that despite taking painful treatments, the patient very often does not survive for long. One of the reasons that make the condition so unpredictable and lethal is the fact that the victim is often unaware that they are suffering with cancer and by the time the symptoms appear, the cancer has most likely metastized. However, a start-up called Niramai, with a noble intention of saving lives, is using artificial intelligence to detect breast cancer at its initial stages. NIRAMAI Health Analytix is a Bangalore-based deep-tech startup addressing critical healthcare problems through automated solutions.
Breast cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer affecting ladies, with one in every 8 women in US alone being at the risk of developing a breast abnormality in her life time, according to a WHO report. Nevertheless, the earlier the detection, diagnosis and intervention, the more are the chances of a full recovery. Niramai, which stands for “Non-Invasive Risk Assessment with Machine Intelligence” and in Sanskrit means ‘being free from illness’, was founded by Dr. Geetha Manjunath and Nidhi Mathur for exactly this purpose. “Many women are suffering because cancer is detected at a later stage. What happens is people wait for the symptoms to appear before going to the hospital. The symptoms could be a lump, discharge of liquid and so on, which means the breast cancer could have progressed to stage 3 or stage 4. This is the most common problem for people in India or even other parts of the world wherein there is a lack of a regular preventive screening method for breast cancer detection,” said Dr Geetha, Founder, CEO and CTO of Niramai in an interview with DataQuest.
Breast cancer is completely manageable and curable provided it is detected early, and women could live for up to 50 years after the cancer has been cured. “The ideal thing to do would be for women to have annual or biannual screenings to detect the cancer early, so that early intervention can commence,” says Dr Geetha.
The Risks Associated with Current Screening Methods for Breast Cancer
Preventive screening should be a priority when it comes to health checkups; however, that is not the case today. Lack of awareness could be the reason for it and even amongst women where there is awareness, preventive health screening is not happening for the following reasons, according to Dr Geetha:
- Cost of a mammogram is about Rs 3500 each time, which could be an issue for even working and urban women.
- Mammography uses x-rays which are harmful and capable of inducing cancers themselves, so an annual screening is not recommended using the same.
- Mammography is not applicable to women under the age of 45, because it cannot identify tumours effectively for younger women.
How Niramai is Using Artificial Intelligence to Save Lives
Dr Geetha says that what they strive for at Niramai is to provide a simple, safe, accurate, non-invasive and privacy sensitive preventive health screening tool for women of all age groups. “At Niramai, instead of x-rays, we use temperature variations on the chest, which is the first sign of abnormality. For example, if on the left side there is very high temperature and on the right side it is normal, this means that there is an asymmetry and it is abnormal. To do this we need a highly sensitive thermal sensor, which is a hardware, to detect the temperature variations, and the findings are then analysed using artificial intelligence, which is a software, to detect any abnormality that might be present, and to state if the same requires immediate attention or not,” adds Dr Geetha.
The core of NIRAMAI solution is Thermalytix, a computer aided diagnostic engine that is powered by Artificial Intelligence. The solution uses a high resolution thermal sensing device and a cloud hosted analytics solution for analysing the thermal images. SMILE (Software with Machine Intelligence for Life Enhancement) is a web interface for the NIRAMAI certified technician to upload demography information about the patient along with her thermal images. The solution automatically generates a report listing certain unique parameters obtained from patient thermal images and also recommends a breast health score. Tumours as small as 4mm, which cannot be felt through physical exam, have been detected using solutions at Niramai, says Dr Geetha. The cost of this solution would be one third that of a mammogram.
How Niramai Plans to Expand
The solutions offered at Niramai are extremely privacy sensitive, as there is no ‘touch’ required making it popular amongst women. Niramai is available in 9 cities in India, and the organization also conducts outreach programmes. Although Niramai is completely focused on breast cancer detection alone currently, they do have intentions of developing the screening tool for other types of cancers as well down the line.
Both the Central and State governments, Dr Geetha says, is helping the startup a lot with its policies like Startup India, grants, and also through NASSCOM. However, Dr Geetha requests the government for further help in enabling permissions, clearances and authorizations to take Niramai to rural areas to deploy the same in villages. Dr Geetha also advices women to take care of their health by taking preventive health screening seriously, as early detection is extremely critical in order to save precious lives.