Spanish engineer Judit Giró Benet has won the 2020 international James Dyson Award for her design The Blue Box, which enables women to test themselves for breast cancer at home using a urine sample.
The Blue Box – which has not yet been painted blue as it is currently in the prototype phase – is an at-home, biomedical breast cancer testing device that uses a urine sample and an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to detect early signs of the disease.
Benet designed the kit with the aim of offering women a more accessible and less invasive way of getting tested for breast cancer, which typically requires them to attend hospitals or medical facilities for a mammogram.
This procedure can be painful and often costly. Due to this, Benet explains that an estimated 40 per cent of women skip their screening, resulting in one in three cases being detected late.
More recently, the coronavirus pandemic has led to nearly one million women missing their breast screening, according to charity Breast Cancer Now.
Inspired by Benet's mother, who was previously diagnosed with breast cancer, The Blue Box test could be used at home as a non-invasive, pain-free, low-cost alternative to hospital mammograms.
The device's technology is based on Blat, a dog that was able to detect lung cancer by smelling its owner's breath.
Benet aimed to make her own "electronic nose" by replicating the dog's sensory system onto an Arduino microprocessor and a series of sensors.
Her device uses the gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) method to analyse and identify different substances within different urine samples in order to learn about the odour of cancer.
The same odour was then processed with Arduino – an open-source computing platform that is able to read inputs and turn it into an output – and four metal oxide sensors.
The results are then sent to the Cloud, or the internet, where an AI-based algorithm reacts to specific metabolites in the urine, providing the user with a fast diagnosis.
The device is linked to a smartphone app that communicates the results to the user and puts them in touch with a medical professional if the sample tests positive.
Benet's design won the international James Dyson Award 2020, which is the competition's top prize. Last year's winner was Lucy Hughes for her MarinaTex bioplastic material made from fish scales and skin.
"The Blue Box has the potential to make cancer screening a part of daily life," said Benet. "It can help to change the way society fights breast cancer to ensure that more women can avoid an advanced diagnosis."
"The day that James Dyson told me that I had won the International prize was a real turning point as the prize money will allow me to patent more extensively and expedite research and software development I am doing at the University of California Irvine," she continued.
"But, most of all, hearing that he believes in my idea has given me the confidence I need at this vital point."
Benet is a biomedical engineering graduate from the University of Barcelona, but is now based in California where she completed a Master's degree in Cyber-physical Systems. She begun developing the first prototype of The Blue Box in October 2017 during her final year of university in Barcelona.
The engineer is currently undergoing patent discussions for The Blue Box, and will spend the next few years working on the final stages of prototyping and data analytics software at the University of California Irvine, in preparation for human studies and clinical trials.
A similar project also saw multidisciplinary design consultancy Matter design three conceptual cervical cancer examinations that women could carry out themselves at home in a bid to make screening experiences more positive for women.
The project comprises three different tests in the form of an applicator, a wand-like smart device and a silicone applicator that fits over the finger. After they are used to take a sample, each one can then be sent off to a lab for testing.