Medical-technology startup Niramai plans to develop an artificial intelligence-based computer-aided software for controlling the spread of river blindness.
Also known as onchocerciasis, river blindness is a disease caused by a worm transmitted to humans through the bite of a blackfly. It can disfigure the skin and cause irreversible blindness.
Bengaluru-based Niramai has received a grant, the details of which have not been disclosed, from the philanthropic Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for this project. The firm said in a statement that it will leverage its AI and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution to detect the presence of the worms that trigger river blindness. Niramai is currently using the in-house solution, Thermalytix, to detect breast cancer at the early stages. Thermalytix is an automated diagnostic tool that combines thermal imaging with AI.
The non-invasive detection method is expected to help assess the efficacy of new drugs being developed to control river blindness by killing the adult worms, the startup added.
Niramai said that 17 million people in Africa are currently afflicted with river blindness. The disease is most widespread on the continent.
“Successful completion of this research project will demonstrate a breakthrough result of Thermalytix being a new way of sensing many abnormalities in human body in a non-invasive, radiation-free and accurate way, even beyond cancer,” said Geetha Manjunath, chief executive and chief technology officer of Niramai.
Niramai, which stands for non-invasive risk assessment with machine intelligence, is currently best known for its breast-cancer screening capabilities. The startup was founded in July 2016 by Manjunath and Nidhi Mathur, former employees of Xerox Research Center and Hewlett-Packard Labs.
Run by Niramai Health Analytix Pvt. Ltd, the company’s screening method is based on the principles of thermography, which can detect tumours five years before a mammography or a clinical exam can do so.
Niramai’s USP is that its device is non-invasive, radiation-free and can be used on women below 40-45 years of age, detecting cancer at an early stage. The startup offers end-consumers only a screening test while it sells its devices to hospitals and diagnostic centres. It also offers training, installation and service at 12 hospitals and diagnostic centres.
Niramai is currently operational in Bengaluru, Mysore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Dehradun and Pune.
A few months before that, Niramai managed to secure about $6-7 million (Rs 42.5-50 crore) from early-stage investment firms Ankur Capital, Axilor Ventures and pi Ventures, as well as Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal.