Last week, Villgro announced a new addition to its healthcare portfolio. Here, founder R.Geethanjali talks about her medtech startup and its plans to change healthcare delivery:
What does your company do?
Adiuvo Diagnostics develops portable diagnostic devices in healthcare customised for low resource settings.
We are developing a portable, non-invasive device that can detect and classify clinically relevant bacteria and fungus causing skin and soft tissue infections in less than 2 minutes. This device will aid the doctors with right treatment decisions and for optimising wound management.
How did it come about?
Lack of access to qualified doctors and technology for diagnosis of various diseases/infections is a huge problem in low resource settings in India. Having worked in TCS for four years, I felt that my biomedical background is better utilized to develop solutions for health care problems in India. During our discussion with a dermatologist, who deals with skin infections and the age old method (visual inspection and culturing) used for detection of infections, that leads to prescriptions of generic antibiotics, we felt a better method is needed to detect skin infections rapidly. On further analysis of the problem and discussion with doctors, we found that the magnitude of the problem is huge and lack of access to qualified dermatologists, BSL-2 Microbiology facility to culture the bacteria & fungus and time taken for the same (weeks) or other high end detection techniques further compounds this problem. In addition, HAIs due to pathogens and rise of super bugs is a problem that has limited major awareness in India leading to millions of preventable deaths.
We wanted to approach this in two ways, one a portable device for rapid screening of the wound-infected areas of a person for possible pathogen presence and pathogenic load determination and secondly a detection and prevention device that can be used in hospitals on various hospital surfaces to minimize Health care Associated Infections.
Why are you excited about this space?
The incidence of skin and soft tissue infections (SSTI) from an open wound/ cut/ abrasions/ pressure ulcers is a serious problem in India. The colonisation of these pathogens is higher in unhygienic environment settings and it is difficult to treat in patients with low immunity (HIV and Diabetes). Approximately 7-10% of hospitalized patients are affected by skin and soft tissue infections and the problem is more severe in emergency care settings.
The initial 1-2 weeks are very crucial for treatment of SSTI. The main challenge of these infections is to efficiently differentiate those cases that require attention and intervention, whether medical or surgical, from those that are less severe.
Typically, the skin infections are handled by dermatologists and only 6000 dermatologists in India cater to 121 crore population. People from villages and towns and even in cities mostly get consultation from general physicians. Due to the lack of a device/method to quickly identify and differentiate the pathogen causing the infection at an early stage, generic antibiotics are prescribed which contribute to antibiotic resistance, rise of super bugs and increasing HAIs. In addition, many cases requires a follow up after a week which is not always done in low resource settings. Detection of SSTI's and resulting non-healing wounds in the case of diabetic foot ulcers is also important to minimize the amputations. Hence, a device which can rapidly identify the pathogens and pathogenic load has far reaching implications in terms of better medical prescriptions, wound care management and minimizing antibiotic resistance.
What is innovative about your service?
The device is non-invasive, portable and can detect pathogen presence on skin and soft tissue infections, within 2 minutes using multi-wavelength fluorescence spectroscopy combined with advanced image processing and machine learning techniques. The device can also classify pathogens species and in future has the potential to quantify the level of pathogenic load on the wound and hence can be an effective diagnostic aid to the doctors in prescribing the right medical treatment.
What is the impact you want to have?
Access to quality health care is still a challenging problem in low resource settings. Our aim is to develop technologically advanced diagnostic devices at an affordable cost in order to assist doctors in right diagnosis and medical prescriptions. The devices will also have data storage and network connectivity options, enabling easy tracking of the infections and consultations with qualified medical professions remotely if required. Finally, we target increase rate of wound closure using the proposed solution, reduction of unwanted prescription of antibiotics, and minimizing the costs associated with unnecessary revisit to hospitals.
What successes and challenges have you seen till now and what is next?
We have received the 'ASME-ISHOW Hardware Led Social Innovation Award' in April 2016, which gave us the resources to develop the concept and realize second version of the prototype device. We also received funding through the highly competitive BIRAC BIG grant in 2016. We have faced few challenges in terms of access to BSL-2 facilities for obtaining the clinically relevant bacteria and fungus and fluorescence characterization of the same. With the BIG funding we received, we aim to expedite the device development and validation of the same in hospitals.
We were also a finalist at Unconvention Chennai in 2014 which set us on this path of incubation with Villgro.
What keeps you motivated?
Though there are few good days and few bad, every new improvisation on the device is very exciting. More importantly, the interactions with patients who have been long suffering due to improper diagnosis keeps us motivated to develop solutions which will put an end to wrong treatment protocols, helps in significantly minimizing the treatment times and save a lot of their hard earned money.
How do you think Villgro will help?
Villgro being a social incubator understands the problem we are working on. Villgro connects with hospitals, NGO’s, mentors and experts in the field are going to add a great value to the solution we are developing.
We are looking for closer interactions with experts and mentors, course correction during the device development, connects with hospitals and PHCs for improved understanding of the problem, traditional treatment protocols, proposed device validation and feedback. We are also looking for financial support to expedite the device development, testing and validation process.