“Artificial intelligence (AI) allows us to observe what human intelligence is not capable of seeing,” explains biomedical engineer Judit Giró (Vallmoll, Tarragona, 1996), a researcher at the University of California. In November 2020, at the age of 24, he won the international competition The James Dyson Award thanks to the invention of a biomedical device based on AI, called The Blue Box, which will allow women to undergo an early detection test for breast cancer from a urine sample. Its operation is simple, painless and cheap, similar to what is now used to perform pregnancy tests at home.
Giró’s idea is inspired by “the ability of dogs to detect cancer through smell”, a discovery published in 1989 by researchers Hywel Williams and Andres Pembroke in the scientific journal The Lancet. “It is not science fiction, there are chemical compounds in the human body that vary with cancer, what happens is that people are not capable of perceiving them. In my case, I have chosen to detect these biomarkers in urine, using artificial intelligence ”, he explains.
The creation of an algorithm to distinguish the urine of healthy and sick people was his final degree work. With Dr. Josep Gumà from the Sant Joan de Reus University Hospital, the engineer collected 90 urine samples, some of them healthy and others with metastatic breast cancer. During his Master’s degree at the University of California, where he now continues his research career together with Professor Fadi Kurdahi, he managed to improve the classification rate of this AI system to 95%, working together with the computer scientist Billy (Po-an) Chen, with who has just founded the technology company The Blue Box Biomedical Solutions, to continue training the algorithm so that it can detect breast cancer in much earlier stages of the disease.
With the £ 35,000 prize Dyson is patenting his idea. In 2021, clinical trials will begin and open the first rounds of crowfunding to promote the project, which it plans to launch on the market in 2024. “We will have a bluebox in our bathroom and will be used by all the women in the family to actively fight against cancer ”.