MUK students make app to detect cervical cancer

Jul 06, 2016

Cervical cancer continues to account for the highest number of new cancer cases among women in Uganda

An app employing the use of a custom hardware containing sensors and attached to a phone has been demonstrated as able to detect the presence of bacterial vaginosis (BV) in a female, when it is immersed in a patient's urine sample.

Principal investigator Margaret Nanyombi, a student of science; information technology at Makerere University, said the mobile application can show a woman has the vagina infection linked to cervical cancer, before seeking improved medical attention.

"It is a handy and easy-to-use gadget. Women can tell that they have the infection wherever they are, without having to go to hospital or seeking a doctor's expertise," the student said at an innovations awards ceremony at the university's school of public health in Kampala on Tuesday.

The application is still being worked on. Yesterday, Nanyombi and the team behind it received $5000 (sh17m) to improve it further. Nanyombi said the device was expected on market next year.

Cervical cancer continues to account for the highest number of new cancer cases among women in Uganda. It claims more lives than any other cancer in the country. According to a new study in the journal JAMA Oncology, cervical cancer cases in Ugandan women increased from 2,000 to 3,400 between 1990 and 2013.

Much as cervical cancer is linked to human papilloma virus, bacterial vaginosis — the most common vaginal disorder among girls and women in the reproductive age group — has been suggested as a co-factor in development of cervical cancer.

Nanyombi said the phone-based tool that tested for early vaginal bacterial infections would help women monitor their reproductive health system from home.

How it works 

You immerse the custom-made device in a tube containing a urine sample. The device will be able to pick values relay the results onto a phone. The device has no side effects because it does not in any way interact with the body. 

"While doing research (for her undergraduate), we learnt that one of the long term cause of cercal cancer was bacterial vaginosis (BV). So we decided to create a solution that could help women check for BV; because it does not show signs and symptoms until it is late," she said. 

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an abnormal vaginal condition that is characterized by vaginal discharge and results from an overgrowth of strange bacteria in the vagina. 

At the function, 16 other groups were awarded $5000 (sh17m) each to concept-develop their innovation ideas. Eleven groups were from Uganda; the rest six from Tanzania, Rwanda and DR Congo. Most of the groups who won had ideas related to improving entrepreneurship and health and better agricultural practices in the country and alleviating gender based violence.  

Nathan Tumuhamye, the director of the Eastern Africa Resilience Africa Network, said the Youth Spark Innovation Grants sought to facilitate innovations that focused on helping real people.

"The priority thematic area centered on floods, drought, disease, epidemics and landslides and gender based violence and refugees and slow pace of recovery after conflict and land disputes," he said.

Prof William Bazeyo, the Dean at the Makerere University School of Public Health and RAN Chief of Party, said another group of innovators from Gayaza High School would travel to California in the USA to participate in this year's Technovation Challenge — f rom July 10 to 15.

The 10 girls from the school will represent the region after they trounced competition from Makerere Modern Secondary School, Nabisunsa Girls' Secondary School and Mayhill High School in the Technovation Regional Pitch in May.

Sheila Agaba, the Technovation Team Leader, said two representatives (of the girls) — Geraldine Nakayita and Patience Ankunda — would travel to the US to participate in the international innovations challenge.

"Their ideas zeroed on using a Global Positioning System to find market for local produce and on improving youth entrepreneurial skills to find employment. They will travel with their student ambassador Patsy Mugabi and their teacher Ronald Ddungu," she said.

Prof Mondo Kagonyera, Chancellor emeritus at Makerere University, appealed to the youth to be creative and serve their societies and to avoid wasting time in "non-productive things". 

He advised the young innovators to work hard, condemning a tendency for many Ugandans "to become rich even without doing anything" as unattainable.

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