Fighting Cervical Cancer

August 1, 2007

The winning team of the second annual Duke-Engineering World Health CUREs nonprofit business competition has developed a low-cost device to help catch cervical cancer early in women of developing countries.

"Our ambition is to save the lives of 19,000 women in the next five years by helping them get access to cervical cancer screenings," says team leader Theo Tam M.E.M. '07.

Cervical cancer, caused almost exclusively by infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), is the second-most common cause of death from cancer among women worldwide. The disease has reached epidemic proportions in some Caribbean countries, where the cervical cancer rates are at least three times higher than in North America. The disease typically remains in a pre-cancerous state for ten to fifteen years; during that period, advanced cervical cancer is highly preventable, Tam says.

The new cerviScope device, created "from scratch" using low-cost materials, is portable, durable, and battery-operated, he says. His team intends to market the device for $600. Instruments currently available for cervical screening cost more than $10,000.

As winners of the competition, the team's company, ImaGYN, will receive $100,000 in startup funds from the Pratt School of Engineering, including business, technical, and legal advice and support for clinical trials. The ImaGYN team includes Tam, Wynn Xiao Wu M.E.M. '07, Ram Balasubramanian M.E.M. '07, and master of engineering students Adnan Haider and Gauravjit Singh.