As a researcher and PhD student, Sweekrity Kanodia is trying to beat breast cancer by exploiting open source digital means to educate women in rural villages of Nepal about breast cancer and self-check.
According to a scientific review published in 2018, “breast cancer is the second most common malignancy among Nepalese women. (…) In countries with lower levels of resources such as Nepal, breast cancers are commonly diagnosed at late stages and women may receive inadequate treatment, pain relief or palliative care. Socioeconomic disparities and insufficient financial resources hinder prevention of breast cancer in Nepal.” (National Library of Medicine, 2018)
Aware of it, Sweekrity Kanodia, a FIRE PhD Student at the Learning Planet Institute, came up with the idea of creating a mobile application BreMo (Breast Health in Nepal Monitoring & Awareness) in order to help prevent and diagnose breast cancer in Nepal. An important part of her work revolves in finding frugal and accessible health solutions.
Interview with an engaged researcher.
Can you introduce yourself? What is your research project?
I am Sweekrity Kanodia, and I am just a fortunate woman from a small village in Nepal who got the opportunity to learn and grow. Growing up I found myself very intrigued by biotechnology and the vastness of this field. As I got deeper into this sea, I realised its potential in improving the lives of people. Having lived the difficulty in seeking medical care (I was often sick as a child) and observing poverty all around me, I wanted to develop frugal medical technologies.
This is why I joined the FIRE Doctoral school’s PhD programme. As part of this programme I am trying to beat breast cancer with my team by exploiting digital means to educate women in rural villages of Nepal about breast cancer and self-check.
My research project aims towards improving breast health in Nepal using open digital and wearable innovations. 2 aspects of project includes:
- An open source app to educate women about breast health and breast cancer: this is a platform with a source code that is readily accessible and which can be modified or enhanced by anyone.
- 3d breast phantoms via which women can learn how to distinguish between fibroadenomas (normal growth) to cancer cells while doing self-check.
How advanced is your project?
We are working on the second version of the open source app BreMo (Breast Health in Nepal Monitoring & Awareness) already, improving it as per the feedback we obtained from a pilot study done at the Learning Planet Institute. We do not want to launch it just yet because we want to scientifically evaluate our app first by testing it on the field with the target audience.
Log in to the BreMo app is very simple and users can choose to proceed with logging in too. A simple interface enables users to easily switch between different screens. Users can follow a step-by-step process to learn how to self-check and record their symptoms.
The main advantage of our BreMo app over other apps is that it enables users to select their symptoms from a list of symptoms making it easier to identify and record.
Once this new version of BreMo is ready, we are prepared to go into the field – in Western parts of Nepal – to test our app against the local conventional method of spreading information about breast cancer via posters.
I have started collaborating with NGOs like Khokana Women’s Society and Nepal Network for Cancer Research and Treatment in Nepal to carry out field testing. We will bring together health volunteers from different districts and train them with BreMo.
This year’s International Women’s Day is dedicated to « Innovation and technology for gender equality ». Why did you decide to implement an app to raise awareness and share knowledge on breast cancer?
The boom in internet technology and the rapidly increasing use of mobile phones pushed me to think in this direction. I was surprised during one of the camps in Nepal, to find the internet even in the remotest places. This is when it hit me that with the mobile application, I can reach even the remotest villages where healthcare facilities are rare.
Open-source technology is extremely important to propagate innovation across the globe. “Open source” means accessible to all with no individual rights. I am in support of open source or open science because any innovations and improvements in science and technology belong to all. Having rights and monopoly over it makes it less accessible and affordable. If health innovations become expensive then it will not come to use for half of the world’s population dwelling in poverty and that fails to achieve the motive of health innovations and reforms.
Open sharing of innovations like hand-held ultrasound will aid in replicating the manufacture of such devices in Nepal without the need of importing at unreasonable costs. Having such a device at each health post can provide a platform for women to visit health posts and check their breasts, once every month.
You are organising a Game-a-thon (a “game-hackathon”) on March 18th. Can you explain what it is in a few words?
Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide. 10 million people died in 2020 due to cancer. There exist around 100 types of cancer and 30-50% of these cancers can be prevented by avoiding risk factors and detecting cancers early. Dissemination of knowledge about cancer is the first step to awareness and hence early diagnosis.
I am organising a Game-a-thon to promote awareness about cancer and gather interested people to discuss and develop together different game ideas that can be used to promote information about different cancers.
People from all disciplines – with or without knowledge regarding game development – are welcome to work in synergy and reproduce game-based solutions that can empower people to prevent their likelihood of getting cancer or improve their likelihood of survival by promoting early detection.
This is an interesting approach since this allows people to discuss and ideate together. Also, this opens room for diverse ideologies, and thoughts summing up in crazy results!
NB: Registrations will close on 10th March 2023.
With whom are you working on your research project, and how?
Dr. Fabien Reyal (Institut Curie), and Dr Jean Christophe Thalabard (Universite Paris Cité) mentor and guide my work as supervisors.
I get additional support from Nepal Network For Cancer Research and Treatment to validate my ideas and work in the context of Nepal. Dr Banira Karki, a gynaecologist and breast cancer awareness enthusiast provides her feedback on improving BreMo. Khokana Women’s Society is helping me organise training for Female Community Healthcare Volunteers (FCHVs).
Dr Kevin Lhoste, from the MakerLab at the Learning Planet Institute, has also consistently been mentoring me with the app development and testing. 4 students from the bachelor’s program (Licence FdV) at the Learning Planet Institute, are now helping me develop 3d breast phantoms which can be used for self-check practice.
You are part of the FIRE Doctoral School, you are working with the MakerLab, you work with Bachelor students (Licence FdV) on their student project (SCORE), you are organizing a game-a-thon… You are definitely an active part of the Learning Planet Institute’s ecosystem!
The Learning Planet Institute has been crucial in achieving my goals. The FIRE Doctoral programme gave me the opportunity to pursue my dream project and provided exceptional support throughout. The MakerLab’s team at the Institute and support from excellent researchers and teachers help me improve at every stage. Numerous seminars and workshops happening all round the year help me grow technically.
Learn more about:
- The upcoming event organised on March 18th at the MakerLab: here
Registration will close on March 10th.
- The FIRE Doctoral School
Applications for this international and interdisciplinary PhD programme are open!
- The MakerLab: a place of innovation where frugal solutions – i.e., reproducible and open – to environmental and societal problems are imagined, prototyped and manufactured.
- “Breast Cancer in Nepal: Current status and future directions”, National Library of Medicine, 2018