Kolkata: An Indian woman entrepreneur has designed a non-invasive, portable device that detects hearing loss in babies, an innovation that has the potential to avert speech, language and cognition difficulties later in life. The mass-screening tool developed by Bangalore-based Neeti Kailas has bagged the 2014 Rolex Award for Enterprise.
Every year, around 150,000 hearing-impaired babies are born in India and without any definitive screening system in place, it goes undetected. Without proper rehabilitation and interventions at an early stage, this results in speech problems.Kailas, director and co-founder, Sohum Innovation Lab, said the goal was "to prevent late detection of hearing loss".
The battery-powered device works on the science of measuring auditory brain-stem response (ABR) that taps into ongoing electrical activity inside the brain (when stimulated) via electrodes placed on the scalp, explained the 29-year-old, who founded the company with engineer husband Nitin Sisodia.
"It is like a headband which can be strapped on to the baby's head and it reads responses from the brain's auditory system when stimulated. If the brain doesn't respond to these stimuli, then the child can't hear. It is non-invasive and safe to use," Kailas told IANS over the phone from Bangalore."If we can get to know (of the affliction) within the first six months after birth, then speech loss can be prevented by addressing the issue early," she said. According to Kailas, what sets the innovation apart is that the testing system suits Indian hospitals and clinics - places that are usually noisy. It incorporates a programme which filters out background noises.
"The products available in the Indian market are manufactured abroad and therefore are not designed to filter out the background noises. The new testing system incorporates our patented, in-built algorithm that filters out ambient noise from the test signal," she said.And because it's indigenous, its cheaper than the other hearing-loss detecting devices available in the market."Other ABR-centric tools available in India are not indigenous products and therefore range from $10,000-$29,OOO. Our design would be one-fifth the cost of the foreign ones," she said.
To facilitate a wide reach in rural areas, its user-friendly design can be handled with ease by minimally skilled public health workers."It is designed in a simple manner to enable ease of use by public health workers and doctors in resource deficient settings, particularly in rural areas, Kailas added. Though the device is in the prototype stage, the prize money - 50,000 Swiss francs/ Rs.33.6 lakh) will help Kailas to propel the venture to the clinical trials stage by the end of the year.
For that, the young entrepreneur has partnered with New Delhi's AIIMS and Bangalore's St. John's Medical College and Hospital to begin with. Kailas hopes it can be marketed by 2016. According to A. Ramesh, an ENT specialist at St. John's, the system needs to be run through trials to fine-tune it for launch. "It is a fantastic device to detect hearing loss in babies. It needs to be field-tested to fine-tune it," Ramesh told IANS over the phone from Bangalore.