Neonatal sepsis, a form of severe bacterial infection in newborn babies, is one of the most common causes of infant mortality, contributing to 23 percent of all newborn baby deaths. To fight any probable cases of this, hospitals resort to a blood culture examination for newborns, a process that takes nearly 48 hours in a lab, a period in which the newborn baby is subjected to antibiotics as a precautionary measure.
But why should this be an essential diagnostic for every newborn and how can we simplify this process so newborns no longer have to be subjected to an unnecessary course of antibiotics? This is the problem Amrita Sukrity has been seeking to find a solution to since founding her medical solutions startup SpotSense in November 2016.
Amrita, who quit her corporate job at Bosch in 2014 and joined BIRAC’s Social Innovation Immersion in Pune a year later, started SpotSense to build highly accurate, non-invasive diagnostics for neonates, and is currently working towards taking its solutions to more and more doctors, patients, health workers, and policymakers.
“We are driven by the objective of making healthcare affordable and accessible and bring diagnostics from pathology labs to homes. We are currently working on developing a panel of diagnostic tools for neonatal health in collaboration with best neonatalogists in India,” says Amrita.
Growing up, Amrita had always been interested in the areas of community and public healthcare. And so, when she began life as a biotech entrepreneur, Amrita was driven by the desire to create awareness about and work on finding answers to treat lesser-known diseases.
“While diseases like cancer are dangerous, there are many companies already working on it. At the same time, there are a number of less-common diseases such as neonatal sepsis that kill a lot more people,” Amrita says, adding that she was determined to direct her efforts to such niche areas.
So far, doctors have largely relied on blood tests to diagnose the health of newborn babies. This observation did not sit well with Amrita as she believed that drawing blood from a newborn baby cannot be the only solution.
She recalled how babies as young as four-days-old had to undergo many blood tests. “She was pricked thrice because the doctor couldn’t get blood from her. They wanted 1.5ml from a healthy baby girl who weighed 3.5 kgs. Imagine the same situation with a 600 gram or an 800-gram baby,” Amrita adds.
In sharp contrast to existing methods, Bengaluru-based SpotSense has developed a non-invasive, easy-to-use device called Droolie for salivary C Reactive protein and salivary IL8 measurements to check for infections in newborns. This can be very easily used for serial measurements in newborns where blood collection is an issue.
How does this work?
A pacifier platform collects saliva of the baby, following which a sensor determines the condition and shows the result in variants of red colour: light red showing less severity and dark red signifying severe condition. The quantification in numbers is shown in a readout on the device and on a smartphone app.
The device examines contents of two bio markers in the saliva, namely C Reactive protein and IL8. The non-invasive, easy-to-use device, then shows the baby’s stage of infection in terms of sepsis.
It is yet to be launched in the market and despite positive reactions from doctors, Amrita stated that adoption on their part remains to be seen.
One of the ten finalists at the World Health Summit in 2018, SpotSense’s device caught the interest of healthcare professionals from across the world including Central America, South America, and South Africa where infection rates are extremely high.
Amrita’s team has earned a patent on the product and is now awaiting certification by the drugs commissioner of India to declare it safe for use as a medical device. Apart from licenses, the doctors also look at parameters like size of the product and its general availability, among others for adoption.
Just getting started
As an entrepreneur, researching and navigating the healthcare space “…with the right amount of ambitious people has been the fun part” of the journey, says the masters graduate in material science from IIT, Kharagpur.
Banking solely on her wish to work in the community health space without any medical background whatsoever, Amrita’s path-breaking, impactful solutions are now poised to save countless lives.
Indeed, at 30, Amrita has only just started her journey as a social entrepreneur working on solving global healthcare problems.