Student Inventor Wins Prize for Breast Cancer Screening Device

A 23-year-old biomedical engineering student with dual residence in Tarragona, Spain and Irvine, Calif. is one of two first-place winners in the 2020 James Dyson Award announced on Thursday. Her invention aims to help women around the world afford the cost of early testing for breast cancer.

Judit Giró Benet captured the $35,000 cash prize for developing The Blue Box, an at-home reusable breast cancer screening device. Her mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer inspired her to find an affordable and effective screening mechanism.

Benet’s experience with a dog at the University of Spain at Barcelona where she first started studying biology sparked her interest to find the biological code for detecting cancer. The dog could smell a patient’s breath and detect if the patient had lung cancer.

“That piqued my interest in studying how the dog’s biology could do this,” Benet told TechNewsWorld.

That experience led her to a program of biomedical study at the University of California at Irvine. There she met a professor and worked with a colleague who became her mentor on The Blue Box research and development.

“I believed this device is something that the world needed. I refused to stop until the world told me otherwise,” she said.

Banner Year

This year was record-breaking for the James Dyson Award, which has now financially supported 250 promising inventions from young engineers and scientists around the world. Despite the trials the pandemic has brought in 2020, the award received its highest number of entries. The quality was exceptional, highlighting the ingenuity of young inventors, according to James Dyson Award officials.

Judit Giró Benet, The Blue Box

Judit Giró Benet captured the $35,000 cash prize for developing The Blue Box, an at-home reusable breast cancer screening device.

James Dyson, a British inventor, industrial designer, landowner and entrepreneur, founded Dyson Ltd. He is best known as the inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner, which works on the principle of cyclonic separation.

 

“Unfortunately, I have witnessed first-hand the harrowing effects of cancer and as scientists and engineers, we should do anything we can to overcome this terrible disease. Judit is using hardware, software and AI together, in an impressive way, to create a well-designed product that could make cancer screening part of everyday life,” Dyson said in a prepared statement.

The data The Blue Box collects and stores in the cloud will provide insight that can enable more precise treatment and expand global knowledge of Cancer, he added.

“She deserves all the support she can get as she navigates the highly complex system of medical approvals,” said Dyson.

Winners’ Limelight

The other first-place award this year goes to 27-year-old Carvey Ehren Maigue from Mapua University in Manila, Philippines. He invented the AuREUS System technology, the first-ever sustainability winner of the James Dyson Award.

It is a new material, made from waste crop. The material converts UV light into renewable energy.

The two winners each receive $35,000 to solve significant problems of global importance. The winners highlight women missing breast cancer screenings and sustainable methods to effectively generate renewable energy.

Missing Breast Cancer Detection

This year, over 300,000 women will be diagnosed with a form of breast cancer. Being able to test — and test regularly — for breast cancer is extremely important.

However, many women skip testing due to the high cost ($170 and up). The physical pain that a mammogram can bring is also a deterrent for women putting off testing.

Benet’s The Blue Box steps in to solve this problem. It is a biomedical device for pain-free, non-irradiating, non-invasive, low-cost ($60) and in-home breast cancer testing. The device itself works within 30 seconds, and results are achieved through a simple urine sample.

“The name comes from the notion of having the world see it as a box that is blue and nothing else to eliminate fear and worry about cancer,” she explained.

How It Works

The Blue Box uses six chemical sensors and reacts to targeted breast cancer biomarkers. The process uses a urine sample and an AI algorithm to detect early signs of breast cancer.

Once the algorithm has reached a diagnosis, the results are sent back to the user’s phone and displayed in The Blue Box app. The app pairs with The Blue Box and serves as a transmission system to the cloud-based analysis.

The iPhone and Android apps notify the user about the diagnosis results. The process takes just a few minutes. The app (pictured above) supports both iPhone and Android platforms.

Not a one-time use device. The model Benet has in mind is when The Blue Box gets on the market, women can buy it online. It can be used by other family members as often as necessary for no additional costs.

The device will eliminate the current need for women seeking breast cancer screening to attend hospitals or medical facilities and undergo an invasive, sometimes painful, and often costly procedure.

According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of women skip their breast cancer screening mammogram. This results in one-in-three cases being detected late, which leads to a lower chance of survival.

R & D Ongoing

The device is not marketed yet so there is no functioning cloud connection for public use, Benet noted. That will come in later stages. For now, Benet is using urine samples collected at the hospital’s research center in Spain.

She set up a company based in California called The Blue Box Biomedical Solution, to prepare for the marketing efforts once development is completed.

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Judit Giró Benet works on assembling the inner workings of her breast cancer detection invention.

Benet was born in Spain and moved to California as a young design student. She continues to conduct research at both the California and Spain university facilities. Because of the coronavirus restrictions, she is temporarily forced to stay in Spain.

 

She said both locations have strong biomedical research centers so each location will contribute to the development and marketing of The Blue Box.

The next step is the trial studies collecting samples in the hospital and verifying its accuracy. Benet must make sure that the device meets both European and U.S. FDA standards for approval before she can market it.

The next few years are crucial as Benet and her team work toward the final stages of prototyping and data analytics software at the University of California Irvine. They are ready for human studies and clinical trials alongside vital patent filings

More Frequent Early Detection

“The Blue Box has the potential to make cancer screening a part of daily life. It can help to change the way society fights breast cancer to ensure that more women can avoid an advanced diagnosis,” Benet said about winning the top prize this year.

The day that James Dyson told me that I had won the International prize was a real turning point, as the prize money will allow me to patent more extensively and expedite research and software development I am doing at the University of California Irvine, she added.

“But, most of all, hearing that he believes in my idea has given me the confidence I need at this vital point,” she said.

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Digitalizing Sub-Saharan Africa: Hopes and Hurdles

In the latest analytical chapter for the Regional Economic Outlook for sub-Saharan Africa,the IMF’s African department* examines how digitalization can transform economies and people’s lives. The COVID‑19 pandemic has amplified those hopes. The pandemic illustrates the value of digitalization, but is also a stark reminder of the remaining digital divide.

Harnessing digital tools to fight COVID-19

In many sub-Saharan African countries, digital tools are supporting efforts to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. In Rwanda, for example, anti-epidemic robots are monitoring patients, delivering food and medication, while free e-consultation tools are helping Nigerians to self-assess infection risk and get tested based on symptoms.

While telework arrangements have allowed businesses to continue partial operations in many countries, the switch to telework has been less pronounced in sub‑Saharan Africa.

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The region’s less reliable internet connectivity and electricity supply have been limiting factors.

An IMF survey of policy responses to the pandemic suggests that countries in the region that were able to switch to partial telework arrangements by mid-May 2020 had greater access to internet (28 percent of the population) compared to non‑telework countries (17 percent).

A narrowing digital divide

Sub-Saharan Africa’s race to digitalize faces other hurdles. Mobile download speeds in the region are, on average, more than 3 times slower than in the rest of the world. Affordability remains a lingering obstacle to adoption as the cost of accessing digital technologies remains high relative to incomes.

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But the gaps between the region and the rest of the world are narrowing fast. Internet penetration in sub-Saharan Africa has grown tenfold since the early 2000s, compared with a threefold increase in the rest of the world.

Digitalization is advancing fast in the financial sector, where some regional countries are global leaders in mobile money transactions—money transactions as a share of GDP average close to 25 percent, against just 5 percent in the rest of the world.

Reshaping the post-COVID-19 recovery

These advances mean that digitalization can play a vital role in supporting the region’s post‑pandemic recovery. According to IMF research, expanding internet access in sub-Saharan Africa by an extra 10 percent of the population could increase real per capita GDP growth by 1 to 4 percentage points.

There are also benefits for businesses and workers. Firms using email for business record annual sales that are 2.6 times higher. On average, digitally‑connected firms employ eight times more workers, and create higher skilled, full-time jobs.

This is not to discount concerns about automation and potential job losses, but smart policies can help reap the benefits of digitalization. And, where digitalization supports better policy design and better economic outcomes, it can be a win‑win.

Countries in the region have embraced digital platforms—from Côte d’Ivoire’s new ePassport agency, to Kenya’s eCitizen portal—to continue delivering government services during the current health crisis.

Governments are also taking advantage of the region’s leadership in mobile money to provide immediate support to households and businesses impacted by the pandemic, while promoting social distancing. For instance, Togo’s “NOVISSI” social protection program uses mobile money and electronic cash transfers to support vulnerable households and informal sector workers. Some central banks in the region have relaxed mobile money regulations to encourage greater use digital payments rather than risk the spread of the virus through bank notes.

Investing in a digital Africa

While the pandemic seems set to accelerate sub-Saharan Africa’s digital transformation, digitalization does not happen by itself, nor is it a cure‑all.

Emerging from the pandemic will depend on integrating digital strategies within each country’s broader development agenda. As countries move in this direction, four broad pillars can help guide pro‑digital policies:

  • Investing in infrastructure —both traditional digital‑friendly infrastructure (including more reliable electricity) and digital‑ready IT infrastructure;
  • Investing in policy frameworks by fostering a digital-friendly business and regulatory environment, and championing the use of digital policies;
  • Investing in skills by improving core education as a basis for continued learning alongside focused investments in digital skills; and
  • Investing in risk management frameworks to address cybersecurity threats.

Investing in a digital Africa today, paves the way for more resilient economies tomorrow.

* This article for IMF Country Focus was prepared by Félix Simione and Martha Tesfaye Woldemichael, both economists in the African Department and members of the team who prepared the digitalization chapter.

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Top Mobile Apps Made in Africa

Mobile apps have been taking the smartphone industry by storm. While many individuals use mobile apps in their free time to play games, check the weather or follow a sports team, Africans have learned to take full advantage of the knowledge available at their fingertips.

Mobile Apps

Most popular mobile apps in Africa that are available on either Android or iOS devices.

Not only do Africans use their smartphones to make calls, send text messages and browse the Internet, but they also use their devices to access mobile money services and locate healthcare facilities.

This list compiles the most popular mobile apps in Africa that are available on either Android or iOS devices.

1. Find-A-Med
This location-based mobile application allows its users to find the closest healthcare facility. The app also provides a place where its users can store their basic healthcare information in case of an emergency. Find-A-Med is available on both Android and Apple devices.

2. PesaCalc
PesaCalc is a free Android app that allows users to streamline access to mobile money services in Kenya. This app is compatible with all three of Kenya’s mobile money services. In addition, the app allows users to prepare the correct amount of cash to send, including fees, to both registered and unregistered users.

3. SnapnSave
SnapnSave is a shopping app that gives its users cash back on their everyday grocery purchases. The app was recently launched in Cape Town, South Africa, and its developers are hoping that it will influence their consumers to make smarter purchases.

4. Wumdrop
Wumdrop is a South African-made app that allows for the delivery or picking up of packages. The user is able to request a courier, track them on a map and receive notification of the pending delivery.

5. Slimtrader
This app was founded in 2009 and is popular in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Slimtrader allows its users to perform e-commerce transactions, such as buying or paying for goods and services. In other terms, the app allows its users to effectively shop by text messages. However, it is only available on Android devices.

6. M-Farm
Launched in 2012, M-Farm is primarily aimed at Kenyan farmers in order to keep them informed of crop prices and other farming-related matters. The app runs on an SMS-based service and is now available to users in five major towns in Kenya. This app is only available on Android devices.

7. Voicemap
Voicemap allows its users to explore places such as Cape Town with the help of its walking tour setting. These audio walking tours are available in voices belonging to expert correspondents, veteran broadcasters and passionate locals. This app is available on both Android and Apple devices.

8. Kids First Aid
The Kids First Aid app gives parents and teachers access to emergency first aid information when they need it. Ideally, this app will be able to give information to parents when they are travelling in a place where they do not speak the local language or when help is not readily available. This app is available only on Apple devices.

9. Suba
Suba is a location-based group photo album that creates a group photo stream. Once the stream is created, users can add pictures and send invites to others. Suba is available on both Android and Apple devices.

10. Safari Tales
Safari Tales was developed in order to eliminate the shortage of books in Kenya. The app is interactive and available in multiple languages. Safari Tales offers African stories that may not be easily found in countries that lack educational books for children. This app is available on Android devices.

Kerri Szulak

Sources: IT News Africa, Voices of Africa

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Contact-tracing apps are not a solution to the COVID-19 crisis

The unprecedented threat from the novel coronavirus has confined many Americans to their homes, distancing them from one another at great cost to local economies and personal well-being. Meanwhile the pressure grows on American institutions to do something—anything—about the pandemic.

Encouraged by the White House, much of that pressure to act has focused on Silicon Valley and the tech industry, which has responded with a fragile digital solution. Tech companies and engineering departments at major universities are pinning their hopes of returning Americans to work and play on the promise of smartphone apps. Coronavirus? There’s an app for that.

The Private Kit mobile app, which aims to help authorities with contact tracing efforts to curb the spread of a novel coronavirus, seen on a phone in this picture illustration taken April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Paresh Dave/IllustrationWe are concerned by this rising enthusiasm for automated technology as a centerpiece of infection control. Between us, we hold extensive expertise in technology, law and policy, and epidemiology. We have serious doubts that voluntary, anonymous contact tracing through smartphone apps—as Apple, Google, and faculty at a number of academic institutions all propose—can free Americans of the terrible choice between staying home or risking exposure. We worry that contact-tracing apps will serve as vehicles for abuse and disinformation, while providing a false sense of security to justify reopening local and national economies well before it is safe to do so. Our recommendations are aimed at reducing the harm of a technological intervention that seems increasingly inevitable.

We have no doubts that the developers of contact-tracing apps and related technologies are well-intentioned. But we urge the developers of these systems to step up and acknowledge the limitations of those technologies before they are widely adopted. Health agencies and policymakers should not over-rely on these apps and, regardless, should make clear rules to head off the threat to privacy, equity, and liberty by imposing appropriate safeguards.

Proposals to combat coronavirus using smartphones largely focus on facilitating the process of “contact tracing.” Contact tracing involves working backward from infected cases to identify people who may have been exposed to disease, so that they can be tested, isolated, and—when possible—treated. Traditional contact tracing is a labor-intensive process of interviews and detective work. Some countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Israel have enlisted technology, including mobile apps, to facilitate contact tracing of coronavirus cases, and this idea is now catching on in the United States. North Dakota and Utah have released voluntary contact-tracing apps that rely on tracking users’ location as they move about, and the consulting firm PwC has begun promoting a contact-tracing tool to permit employers to screen which employees can return to work. Several American technology companies and institutions of higher learning are developing the infrastructure that would permit automated contact tracing of a sort, while also avoiding certain privacy concerns.

Contact tracing can be an important component of an epidemic response especially when the prevalence of infection is low. Such efforts are most effective where testing is rapid and widely available and when infections are relatively rare—conditions that are currently unusual in the United States. Ideally, manual contact tracing by trained professionals can help identify candidates for testing and quarantine to help contain the spread of coronavirus.

The lure of automating the painstaking process of contact tracing is apparent. But to date, no one has demonstrated that it’s possible to do so reliably despite numerous concurrent attempts. Apps that notify participants of disclosure could, on the margins and in the right conditions, help direct testing resources to those at higher risk. Anything else strikes us as implausible at best, and dangerous at worst.

Lawmakers, for their part, must be proactive and rapidly impose safeguards with respect to the privacy of data, while protecting those communities who can be—and historically have been— harmed by the collection and exploitation of personal data. Protections need to be put in place to expressly prohibit economic and social discrimination on the basis of information and technology designed to address the pandemic. For example, academics in the United Kingdom have proposed model legislation to prevent compulsory or coerced use of these untested systems to prevent people from going back to work, school, or accessing public resources. The prospect of surveillance during this crisis only serves to reveal how few safeguards exist to consumer privacy, especially at the federal level.

At the end of the day, no clever technology—standing alone—is going to get us out of this unprecedented threat to health and economic stability. At best, the most visible technical solutions will do more than help on the margin. At a minimum, it is the obligation of their designers to ensure they do no harm.

Ashkan Soltani is an independent researcher and technologist specializing in privacy, security, and behavioral economics. He was previously a senior advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, the chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission, and a contributor to the Washington Post team that in 2014 won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of national-security issues.

Ryan Calo is a professor of law at the University of Washington, with courtesy appointments in computer science and information science and the co-founder of two interdisciplinary research initiatives.

Carl Bergstrom is a professor of biology at the University of Washington with extensive experience in the epidemiology of emerging infectious diseases, which he is integrating into ongoing research on spread of disinformation through social and traditional media channels during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

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