Five biomedical engineer students have developed a reusable cryotherapy device to help treat breast cancer without surgery or anesthesia. The need is overwhelming for women in rural, poor countries as they don’t have access to to procedures like lumpectomies which require a sterile environment and the assistance of anesthesiologists.
Susan Harvey, Director of Breast Imaging at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine wanted to improve breast cancer diagnostics and therapeutics in South Africa and turned to this team of students, who are now named Kubanda (means “cold” in Zulu) to take the challenge and run with it. And they did!
Extreme cold therapy has been used to treat kill cancer cells with a probe inserted into the skin to the tumor that delivers liquid nitrogen or gas to freeze the cancer cells. The problem is the disposable is expensive at $2,000 per probe and the gases are inaccessible in Africa.
The “Kubanda” team worked with cryotherapy device manufactures to design a less expensive probe – a small needle – that can be sterilized and reused and uses locally available resources to freeze the breast cancer cells. The patient won’t need anesthesia as the cold has a numbing outcome which overcomes the issue of needing anesthesiologists who are only located in inaccessible cities.
The team traveled to South Africa to inspire their solution as they didn’t want to solve the problem only in the lab. They wanted real-world experience to make sure the device would work in the setting of rural clinics in South Africa.