Non-Invasive HPV Screening Device Wins 2024 Global Health Competition

Thursday, May 23, 2024


From left to right: Dr. Joe Kolars, the founding director of the Center for Global Health Equity, professor of Medicine and Health Professions Education in the U-M Medical School and professor of Health Management and Policy in the U-M School of Public Health; Claire Hogikyan, Vice President of Administration at WDI; Dr. Lee Schroeder, Associate Professor, Chemical Pathology at Michigan Medicine, Dr. Thiyagarajan, Dhanalakshmi; Ioan Cleaton-Jones, Director of Healthcare Delivery at WDI; U-M undergraduate student Natasha Mehta; Noel Watson, CEO and Chief Executive Officer of Southerly Pharma; and Dr. Shane Quinonez, Clinical Associate Professor at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. Kolars, Schroeder, Cleaton-Jones, Watson and Quinonez served as judges for the pitch competition.
Judges listening and taking notes during the presentations.
Dr. Thiyagarajan, Dhanalakshmi (left) and U-M undergraduate student Natasha Mehta (right) during their presentation.
The case competitions winners Dr. Thiyagarajan, Dhanalakshmi (left) and U-M undergraduate student Natasha Mehta (right) holding an oversized check for the award of $30,000.
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The William Davidson Institute and the Center for Global Health Equity at the University of Michigan are proud to announce the winning project of the 2024 Global Health Commercialization Pitch Competition — an innovative screening device designed to detect high-risk strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), especially tailored for use in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where such health resources are scarce. The winning team, led by Dhanalakshmi Thiyagarajan, MD of the U-M Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, will receive funding and additional programmatic support over the next year to further develop the device. The team will actively engage in field feasibility studies over the coming year in partnership with Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, which not only serves as a major medical hub in Ghana but also stands as a key institution for healthcare provision and innovation across sub-Saharan Africa.

The innovative HPV screening device is the brainchild of a diverse and interdisciplinary team at the University of Michigan, comprising experts drawn from a range of fields and institutions. Collaborating with Thiyagarajan are co-investigators Julia Kramer, who brings a mechanical engineering perspective with her PhD and Master of Public Health background, and Kwaku Asah-Opoku, MD, contributing insights from his experience in obstetrics and gynecology at Ghana’s Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. Additionally, the research efforts benefit from the fresh perspective of a group of dedicated students from the Michigan Health Engineered for All Lives (M-HEAL) student organization: Suraj Menon, Ariana Layne, Natasha Mehta, and Alyssa O’Brien.

“Our team is mindful of the myriad challenges faced by women in LMICs when it comes to accessing healthcare,” shared Dr. Kwaku Asah-Opoku, a co-investigator in the project based in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Ghana. “With our device, we aim to alleviate some of those barriers, although we know there’s still a long journey ahead of us.”

In low-income settings, traditional HPV screening methods such as pap smears and self-swabbing face numerous obstacles. Pap smears can be costly and require a clinic with a trained professional to administer the test, factors that impede access in resource-limited regions. Furthermore, these procedures can be invasive, causing discomfort and dissuading women from participating in essential screening. While self-swabbing offers a less invasive option than traditional pap smears, some preliminary research suggests that women in low-and middle-income countries have reservations about their ability to self-collect samples accurately without the supervision of a healthcare provider. Additionally, these women reported difficulties in finding a private and comfortable space to perform self-swabbing.

The team’s device presents a promising solution to overcome these barriers. Unlike standard urine collections which are often too diluted for accurate HPV detection, this device specifically collects the first 20mL of urine—a concentration increasingly shown to yield HPV detection rates comparable to self-swabbing. This method is economically advantageous, with the cost approximately halved from the standard $42 to around $21, making it a more feasible option for individuals in impoverished areas.

The device’s design embraces non-invasive, patient-centered principles. Women can use it within the comfort of their usual settings, as it neatly integrates into existing toilet facilities. The simplicity of the collection process means that women can gather the sample themselves at local health posts, significantly increasing screening accessibility. It’s also a boon for women with physical disabilities, eliminating the need for a speculum examination.

“We’re under no illusion that our work is a panacea, but we do believe it represents an important advancement in making HPV screening more accessible,” said Thiyagarajan. “Our hope is that this device can be a part of a larger solution to safeguard women’s health, opening doors to preventative care for women who need it the most.”

For the second consecutive year, the William Davidson Institute and the Center for Global Health Equity collaborated to present the Global Health Commercialization Competition, a pioneering initiative that invites faculty visionaries from across the University of Michigan’s three campuses to contribute groundbreaking healthcare solutions for the global stage. This annual competition is a beacon for innovative thinking in the face of daunting health issues prevalent in under-resourced regions of the world. Embracing an interdisciplinary methodology, the competition encourages the fusion of technical expertise and market-driven strategies to create interventions that are sustainable within the communities they aim to serve.

Claire Hogikyan, Vice President of Administration at the William Davidson Institute and programming leader for the competition, emphasized, “This collaborative environment is what propels innovators to traverse the last mile in healthcare delivery, ensuring that our efforts reach, and more importantly, resonate with those in need. It is this cross-sector synergy that ignites sustainable change, and we believe it’s a cornerstone for achieving global health equity.”

The passionate work of the U-M community, fortified by strategic partnerships and a shared vision for a better world, is truly lighting the way towards a healthier tomorrow that promises equity and accessibility for all.

About WDI

At the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, unlocking the power of business to provide lasting economic and social prosperity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is in our DNA. We gather the data, develop new models, test concepts and collaborate with partners to find real solutions that lead to new opportunities.

About CGHE

The University of Michigan has a long tradition of international engagement and individual global health programs that have often been centered within its numerous colleges and institutes. The Center for Global Health Equity aims to enhance the ongoing work of these existing efforts by fostering connectivity to increase cross-campus initiatives and programming. Global health leaders from across our academic units provided input to help define the Center’s thematic priorities and overall approach to impact.

Media Contact:

Scott Anderson, WDI Communications Manager

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