A team of Harvard undergraduates have developed a device they hope will save the lives of children living with cancer in the developing world.
Do Hyun Kim, Emily Dahl and Olga Romanova won the support tools category of Astellas’ C3 Prize for their wearable technology prototype, designed to alert patients and their caregivers of potentially fatal infections.
Emily explained the idea was born of a school project: “We were asked to devise an engineering solution to solve the disparity in pediatric cancer outcomes between kids in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and those in high-income countries.”
“A huge part of the problem was delay in access to care. In LMICs, kids are likely to be further away from a primary care center. If an infection develops once the patient has been discharged, the longer it takes them to reach a center of care, the less likely they are to have good outcomes from that infection.”
The device, which looks like a watch, works by detecting fever, an early sign of infection. Sensors compare the child’s core body temperature to their skin temperature, and an alarm is triggered if a fever is detected.
“The core body temperature is able to tell you whether a patient is febrile or not, and depending on that, the device then provides a visual and auditory signal,” said Olga.
The project is intended to improve cancer care as well as allow children dealing with cancer in LMICs a greater quality of life, Emily added.
“It lets kids be kids. Often, when they are discharged from the hospital everyone needs to be watching them constantly to keep track of their health,” she said.
“That’s a big burden on parents, guardians and teachers. This takes the burden away from the supervising adult and means the kids are far freer to go about their everyday life.”
The device may have started life as a school project, but since securing the $25,000 grant, Emily and Olga have decided to turn the idea into a reality.
“We really wanted to continue development, but we didn’t have the funds to be able to dedicate ourselves in a meaningful way to the project,” said Emily, adding that the pair were now working on creating a device of high enough quality to be piloted by hospitals in LMICs.
The prize, which the trio won after pitching their idea to a panel of judges at the UICC World Cancer Congress in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, also includes a package of mentorship from healthcare innovation community, MATTER.
“Getting up in front of the audience and talking about the device was nerve racking and terrifying. But it was also very humbling, and the questions from the judges and the audience allowed us to think more critically about what the device does and what improvements could be made,” said Olga, adding the prize had been nothing short of life affirming.
“The entire trip was really inspirational because it made me realize the scale of the impact you can have when you are designing and building innovation,” she said.
“It was the tipping point for me to apply for my PhD and dedicate my life to designing and constructing devices that can improve the standard of care internationally.”
You can find out more about the C3 Prize and the 2018 winners by clicking on the below links.