Indian entrepreneur Neeti Kailas has developed a new device for detecting hearing loss in early stages of a baby’s life. Kailas states that her ultimate goal with the new technology is to “prevent late detection of hearing loss” that has already resulted in speech problems for countless Indian youth.
Hearing is crucial to the cognitive, language and speech development of a child, and early detection is the key to preventing speech loss in adolescents. There is currently no standard screening system in the Indian healthcare system that exists, and hearing impairment goes undetected for anywhere between 100,000 to 150,000 Indian babies each year.
“At age 3, people realize ‘Oh my god, she’s not saying anything. By the time the parents go to the pediatrician and get sent to someone else and then finally she gets a hearing screening, she’s already lost speech,” Kailas said. “Speech loss is preventable if a baby is diagnosed early enough and given the right rehabilitation.”
Kailas is the director and co-founder of Sohum Innovation Lab with Nitin Sisodia, her husband, an engineer. Sisodia won the Stanford-India Biodesign fellowship in 2010, funded by the Union government’s department of biotechnology, in partnership with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum and American University.
Four years ago, Sisodia’s fellowship fueled this power couple’s journey to health centers in Delhi and surrounding areas to study needs. Kailas and Sisodia recognized infant hearing loss as a relevant problem with a feasible solution, so they made it their organization’s focus. The new auditory screening device is the Sohum Innovation Lab’s first product, currently in its prototype stage, but developing quickly.
Sohum Innovation Lab is exactly what it purports itself to be: innovative. Their new technology addresses cost, usability and environmental factors that currently limit reliable testing in India and other developing nations. Domestic manufacturing and the lack of disposable parts will severely reduce production costs and drive the price down. The instrument will cost as little as one fifth the price of instruments in use now, which range between $12,000 and $29,000. It is also battery powered, portable and designed to be intuitively operated by untrained users.
The instrument is impressively non-invasive and fits easily over the patient’s cranium, like a headband. Non-stick electrodes on the scalp measure the auditory brain-stem response (ABR) to auditory stimuli. If the patient’s brain shows no response, there is indication that the child suffers from a hearing disorder.
One of the most innovative additions to Kailas’ device addresses the typically noisy setting of an Indian hospital. Sohum’s new testing system incorporates noise-cancelling technology that foreign-designed systems, which often result in false positives, lack.
Kailas was one of the five winners globally of the 2014 Rolex Awards for Enterprise, prized 50,000 Swiss Francs ($56,000). The prize money will propel the device into clinical trials for sensitive fine-tuning before it hits the market. The Sohum Innovation Lab hopes to have its product on the market by 2016, giving thousands of Indian children a chance at a brighter (and louder) future.
– Edward Heinrich
Sources: Washington Post, Live Mint, Daiji World