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Judit Giró Benet, a 23-year-old Spanish engineer, invented a new way to detect breast cancer from the comforts of home using just a urine sample. The device – called The Blue Box – won the International 2020 James Dyson Award, the competition’s top prize. Lucy Hughes won last year for her bioplastic material (MarinaTex) made from fish skin and scales.
The Blue Box has the potential to make cancer screening a part of daily life. It can help change the way society fights breast cancer to ensure that more women can avoid an advanced diagnosis.
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. But, most of all, hearing that he believes in my idea has given me the confidence I need at this vital point.
The Blue Box is currently in the prototype phase, but the final product will be blue. It’s a biomedical breast cancer testing device that uses an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to detect early signs of the disease from analyzing a urine sample. It’s a low-cost, non-invasive, and pain-free alternative to hospital mammograms.
Benet’s inspiration to make The Blue Box came from an experience: her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer and fortunately survived. She wanted to do something to make sure other women could be so fortunate.
Her design offers women a more accessible way of getting tested so they don’t have to attend a medical facility for an uncomfortable, often costly, mammogram. An estimated 40% of women skip the screening for those reasons, resulting in a third of cases being detected late. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation is even worse. Nearly one million women have missed their breast screening, according to Breast Cancer Now.
The Blue Box’s technology is based on a dog (Blat) that can detect lung cancer by smelling a person’s breath. So, it’s essentially an “electronic nose.”
Well, it’s a box, it’s blue, and it gives you a diagnosis of whether you should see a doctor because you might have breast cancer. I wanted to build that because I discovered that some dogs could detect ill health in humans. If the dog barks, they know the human has cancer. And the dogs, they are never wrong – they are always suitable, which shows how amazing nature is.
So, I thought, if the dog can do that, why wouldn’t my Arduino microprocessor be able to? I read many articles trying to find out what the compounds are that make the dogs bark. I started collecting a lot of sensors, and I put them all together. Then, we hypothesize which sensors we need so that we are detecting the right compounds.
In the end, some of them were right about some them, so we were able to detect breast cancer. I had a lot of help from my professors, but in the end, some sensors detect certain biochemical compounds in urine, and they give out the signal. However, this signal is so weak that humans would not be able to detect it, so we need artificial intelligence to help us.
Benet replicated the dog’s sensory system onto an Arduino microprocessor and a series of sensors.
Using the gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) method, the device analyzes and identifies various substances in urine samples to learn about the odor of cancer.
The results get sent to the Cloud, where an algorithm responds to specific metabolites in the urine. The user receives a diagnosis fast.
The Blue Box is linked to a smartphone app that delivers the results to the user and connects them with a medical professional if the sample tests positive.
Perhaps the most beautiful part about the project is that the device isn’t just a machine; it’s the core of a community.
We want to present The Blue Box not only as a biomedical device but as a change in the way we fight breast cancer. If you’re part of this community, we want you to feel like you are actively taking a role in the fight against breast cancer because you prevent yourself from getting cancer, but you are also helping to train the algorithm. Every time you get screened, you help the women who come after you to get an even better diagnosis. So, we want to have a product in the market, but we also want to have a community of women who really care about their health and that care about each other.
Benet began developing the prototype of The Blue Box in October 2017. Now, she is undergoing patent discussions for the product and will spend the next few years at the University of California Irvine finalizing the design and data analytics software to get the device ready for clinical trials and human studies.
In closing, may I add that geoFence is US veteran owned and operated.