The health care start-up, NIRAMAI, introduces AI-based technology to screen breast cancer.
Bangalore-based Healthtech startup NIRAMAI (Non-Invasive Risk Assessment with Machine Intelligence), has developed an innovative early breast cancer detection technology that is a radiation-free and non-invasive. The solution is based on thermal imaging and cloud-hosted analytics and is portable, accurate, privacy-aware and can be used for women of all ages.
The core of their solution is an Artificial Intelligence-based computer-aided diagnostic engine that powers these benefits. Niramai has developed a novel patented technique called Thermalytix™ which is a fusion of machine learning and advanced thermal imaging.
Dr Geetha Manjunath, CEO & CTO, Niramai and Nidhi Mathur, COO & Co-founder, Niramai share their story of success with PEAKLIFE and future ventures.
Tell us about the technology behind Niramai, and the story of how you discovered it?
Geetha: At Niramai, we have developed a new way of detecting breast cancer in women of all age groups. The core innovation of Niramai is a Computer Aided Diagnostic Engine which is powered by Artificial Intelligence, we call it Thermalytix.
In 2014 in my research lab, we were working on advanced imaging algorithms to monitor health using camera-based systems. During that period, my cousin sister was suffering from breast cancer. So, along with one US colleague (Dr Mestha), I started looking at the possibility of using other types of camera technologies for addressing critical diseases like breast cancer. We found out about thermal imaging and started a project to experiment with it. After 2 years of research, we found the solution.
How does your innovation help the common women?
Nidhi: Niramai solution is an innovative method for breast cancer screening. It is non-contact, non-invasive, privacy aware and it works for women of all age groups.
The procedure is very simple and comfortable to women. They just have to walk into a small booth with a thermal sensor placed 3 feet from them. The thermal sensor measures the temperature variations on the chest, and Niramai software analyses these thermal signatures to generate a breast health report automatically. The report can be reviewed even remotely by an expert radiologist for verification.
Since the equipment is portable, the test can be done in corporate offices for working women at their work place. Niramai also provides a triaging software that can be used in rural areas to identify people who need to be brought to a hospital for further test. Niramai test has the ability to detect breast abnormalities even before a lump is formed. Such early detection increases treatment effectiveness, reduces treatment cost, and ensures better quality of life post treatment.
How cost effective is Niramai?
Geetha: Breast cancer screening tests like mammography are expensive to a user as it almost costs a crore to install one mammogram machine in a hospital. Our solution in commercially available to hospital and diagnostic centres at one tenth the cost of a mammography machine and they pay a revenue share per screening. Also, the skillset required to perform the screening test isn’t very high. Nurses and paramedics with a little training can perform the test, while the expert radiologist can review the automated report through tele-radiology. This lowers the full-time staffing costs for hospitals too.
Due to this cost effectiveness, many more diagnostic centres and hospital hubs can provide the service to women, making it more accessible and affordable to women even in tier 2, tier 3 cities.
More people have taken the breast cancer seriously in the urban areas, what steps you have taken to make the technology easily available to the rural women?
Nidhi: Being a no-touch, no-see solution, Niramai test addresses the socio-cultural issues in cancer screening and has now become a quite sought-after test by Indian women particularly for rural women given the cultural discomfort of disrobing in front of a stranger just for routine screening.
The test can be used in hospitals and diagnostic centres for preventive health check-up. In addition, the portable nature of this solution makes it suitable for on-site corporate health check-ups, as well as mass screening in rural or remote areas with limited infrastructure.
Niramai aims to expand the availability of breast health screening solutions to women all over India. For that purpose, we partner with various stakeholders including hospitals, diagnostic centres, individual practitioners, NGOs, Government and corporates. Hospitals usually charge around Rs 1,500 per screening.
We are working on several outreach programmes in Karnataka, where we screen patients free of cost. We are also working towards partnering with the National Health Mission, NITI Aayog, so that more rural hospitals, primary health centres can have access to this solution. In rural areas, the need is to screen large number of women and identify in real time who needs to be taken to a hospital for advanced diagnostic tests. We work with outreach partners focused on rural screenings to provide quality healthcare for breast imaging to rural women by providing real-time triaging reports. With higher volumes the solution cost per screening can come down to as low as Rs 100 for rural area focused programs.
We have screened more than 4,500 women till now and detected cancer early-on in some of them.
What are your future plans of expanding and making the technology available in other parts of the country?
Nidhi: We are working with hospitals and diagnostic labs and plan to expand this year to other parts of the country. The test is currently available in Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Mysore and Dehradun.
We will focus on India for the next two years and will look at exploring the global market shortly.
Tell us a little about yourself (both individually) and we understand that both of you have worked in similar companies, so, how did you both connect for this project?
Geetha: Yes, me and Nidhi worked together at Xerox and Hewlett Packard on multiple projects. We come from different backgrounds and so complement each other.
Before starting Niramai, I had spent over 25 years in corporate R&D as a computer scientist and innovation leader. I hold a PhD from IISc and a management degree from Kellogg’s School at Chicago. During my corporate career, I have led a number of deep-tech projects, especially enjoyed those with a social impact in healthcare and transportation. When the US company where I starting this exploratory project on breast cancer decided to close down all research activities in India, I requested Nidhi, Himanshu and Siva to join me to start our own venture to take the innovation to real use.
Nidhi: Geetha and I have worked together on and off for 10 years now across three companies. We incorporated Niramai in July 2016 and started working on Niramai full time since the beginning of 2017. I am responsible for Go-to-Market and Finance at Niramai.