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Smart Cancer Screening

Millennium Alliance awardee Aindra Systems’ CervAstra utilizes artificial intelligence to provide smart, fast and affordable screening for cervical cancer.


India has one of the world’s highest numbers of cervical cancer cases. A 2018 report by GLOBOCAN, an international agency for research on cancer, indicates that in India, cervical cancer is third among new cases of cancer and the fourth biggest cause of deaths from any cancer. However, cervical cancer is curable if detected at an early stage. Thus, an affordable and fast-detecting tool can go a long way in combating the incidences.

CervAstra is one such tool, a point-of-care system that makes screening affordable and accessible to even people in remote and rural areas. It is a product of Aindra Systems, a Bengaluru-based artificial intelligence (AI)-driven company, focused on creating point-of-care diagnostic solutions for fatal illnesses. 

“We are building a computational pathology platform for all critical illnesses that can be detected using technologies like deep learning,” says company founder Adarsh Natarajan. “The first of such products is CervAstra.” 

Artificial intelligence and machine learning involve the use of computers to mimic the cognitive functions of humans. One of the most promising and impactful applications of this technology has been in the area of health care to assist with diagnosis, screening and treatment. “This has been highly significant for the health care sector. It is about saving lives using deep learning systems,” says Natarajan, who is regarded as one of the pioneers in using artificial intelligence for health care, specifically in the area of cancer detection.

In the context of cervical cancer in India, he feels that the need of the hour is to “conduct population-based screening to cover all the women in the risk category.” But this requires a high level of infrastructure and skill set.

Any solution designed for early detection of cervical cancer, according to Natarajan, needs to be simple, affordable and portable so that it can be deployed in any nook and corner of a country. “Technologies like ours [CervAstra] help in releasing the systemic constraints that are the root causes of the lack of good outcomes where population-based screening is required,” he says.

Before starting Aindra, the team met a lot of clinicians, diagnostic lab owners, gynecologists and others, which helped to conceptualize, design and develop the computational pathology system. To establish the effectiveness of the system, Aindra worked with a leading oncology hospital, a general hospital, not-for-profit organizations and diagnostic labs. 

The screening and detection of cervical cancer, especially in rural India, can be tedious, time-consuming and expensive. CervAstra simplifies the procedure by putting smarter cancer detection technology at point-of-care centers. Women can visit their local clinics or primary health care centers and get screened with a standard Pap smear. CervAstra is a suite of three products—Aindra IS, Aindra VisionX and Aindra Astra—which work cohesively to obtain quick and accurate test results.

Once a pap sample is collected, it is processed through the Aindra IS automated stainer. The stained sample is then scanned using Aindra VisionX to get an extremely crisp image. The image can either be used for telepathology or be passed through the third system, Aindra Astra, an artificial intelligence platform developed to facilitate faster and more accurate diagnosis. A report is generated and shared with the woman immediately.

“We covered more than 600 women in a period of six months as part of a pilot rollout. We are looking to expand this number considerably with the successful conclusion of the pilot rollout,” says Natarajan.

Aindra Systems has received grants from the Millennium Alliance, a consortium of partners including the Government of India, the United States Agency for International Development and others, as well as from the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum, an autonomous bilateral organization jointly funded by the governments of the United States and India.

Aindra Systems is now focusing on creating inroads into the market, says Natarajan. “Our vision is to democratize access to quality health care with the help of deep technology,” he says. “We see a world where machines work along with humans in creating an equitable health care system.”

 

Ranjita Biswas is a Kolkata-based journalist. She also translates fiction and writes short stories.