As COVID-19 cases increase, more people are opting out of regular cancer screenings, with breast and colorectal cancer leading the decline, according to a study in JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics, a journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. This, unfortunately, could result in more late-stage cancer diagnoses.
Judit Giró Benet hopes to change that through her budding startup company, The Blue Box.
The Blue Box, now part of UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s Wayfinder program, is an at-home breast cancer detection device, which uses a urine sample and an artificial intelligence algorithm to detect early signs of late-stage breast cancer and utilizes technology tracing back to Giró’s biomedical engineering days.
During her studies in her home county of Spain, Giró observed a dog that would literally sniff out lung cancer through a patient’s breath. Giró’s fascination with this concept fueled her to replicate a dog’s olfactory system for her undergraduate capstone project.
“That inspired me a lot because I think sometimes we engineer solutions beyond science and biology,” said Giró. “And sometimes we forget that the best design is in biology. I really believe that to get the best solutions for the bigger problems in the world, you first need to observe what’s going on and try to learn from that.”
Giró moved across the globe to join UC Irvine’s Master of Embedded and Cyber-physical Systems program, which trains students in the practices of embedded and cyber-physical systems design, optimization and evaluation. Alongside her mentor, Fadi Kurdahi, Ph.D., professor and director of Embedded and Cyber-physical Systems, and business partner Billy (Po-an) Chen, she incorporated artificial intelligence into her platform.
“At UCI we created a much more powerful algorithm,” said Giró. “And thanks to that addition, the accuracy of the device is over 95 percent for late-stage breast cancer.”
“I have spent a lot of hours with these mentors and they don’t tell you what you have to do,” said Giró. “They listen to you and let you figure it out on your own. They guide you, so the amount of learning that you take away is incredible. It’s like an accelerated crash course in entrepreneurship.”
Recently, Giró was the International winner of the 2020 James Dyson Award, which is an international design competition that aims to solve a problem or address a global issue.
Looking ahead, Giró will further refine her product, hopes to bring The Blue Box to the market soon, and eventually, empower women to take charge of their own health and put The Blue Box into the hands of patients across the world.
“I would like to imagine that The Blue Box would not only be a company, but also a virtual place for women who decide to take care of their own health,” said Giró. “It would change how we practice medicine because I would like to imagine that medicine of the future is not someone sitting back and letting the doctors fight cancer. I would like to imagine the patients of the future take care of it and they have an active role in breast cancer prevention.”
Learn more about The Blue Box.
Main Photo courtesy of Judit Giró Benet, cofounder and CEO of The Blue Box