While Yehudit Abrams was working as a postdoctoral fellow at NASA, her job was to research the potential use of ultrasound to monitor astronauts on long missions to the international space station. But when her cousin, a gynecologist and breast cancer survivor, was killed in a car accident in 2011, Abrams started thinking of other uses for the medical device.
“She was so passionate about the early detection of cancer, and I wanted to honor her for that,” says Abrams, a physician and mechanical engineer who immigrated to Israel last year from California. “That is what got me thinking about using some sort of portable ultrasound for early detection of cancer.”
Abrams founded MonitHer, a Jerusalem-based startup that is developing a handheld ultrasound device that women can use at home to monitor their breast tissue. The device and its potential to change the way breast cancer is detected is why MonitHer was the big winner the WeWork Creator Awards, held in Jerusalem on June 20. Her company took home $360,000.
“I’m empowering women,” Abrams told the crowd, holding up her award.
Women using the device will scan their breasts once a month for about 10 minutes. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved software program then scans the images for any changes over time. If the software detects any potential problems, users will be advised to consult a physician.
By monitoring breast tissue over time, Abrams says women will be able to detect cancer earlier than the traditional method of self-exams where women feel each breast in order to find lumps or swelling.
“We are changing the paradigm from breast cancer screening to breast health monitoring,” Abrams says.
Once more than 100,000 women begin to use the device and upload their scans to the app each month, artificial intelligence and machine learning methods will be used to evaluate tissue changes.
While mammography has long been the best way to diagnose breast cancer, it is less effective on certain women, especially those with dense breast tissue. And the current protocols for breast cancer detection have recently been questioned for resulting in the unnecessary treatment of tumors that may never grow in size or harm a women’s health.
“We are wasting billions of dollars of year treating cancer that women don’t have, and this is because we have stopped innovating,” Abrams said. “Medicine is a dinosaur.”