The startup’s Cilika product line, integrated with tablet or smartphone, can capture, record, share, and transmit images and videos to make diagnostics more accessible
When MedPrime Technologies, a healthtech startup, recently raised seed capital with Social Alpha leading the funding round, it became evident that their Cilika microscopes are poised to go places. In praise for MedPrime’s innovation, Manoj Kumar, Founder and CEO of Social Alpha, had called it a “great leap forward in the use of digital tools to create access to high-quality services and help pathologists with an efficient decision-support workflow”.
But how exactly will this tablet/smartphone-integrated digital microscope revolutionize the field of pathology? Greeshma Unnikrishnan, chief operating officer, MedPrime Technologies, recounts a heart-breaking story to illustrate how the startup can address the lack of availability of quality pathology services across the country and, in turn, save lives!
“Soon after giving birth in a remote village on the Indo-Nepal border, a woman developed high fever, and the neighbourhood doctor prescribed a blood test. Since the local pathology labs didn’t have access to an MD pathologist, the samples had to be physically transported to Delhi for analysis. Meanwhile, the newborn too fell ill and eventually both the mother and child passed away. Finally, when the results came back from Delhi after a week, malaria was found to be the cause of fever. Without the lab findings, the local doctor couldn’t have administered medicines. A delay in this case proved to be fatal,” rues Greeshma.
Such incidents are commonplace in India where, according to a New Indian Express report, only about 6,000 doctors with a degree of MD in pathology practise, while the number of labs is estimated at over 3.2 lakhs.
“Since Cilika microscopes are integrated with phones and tablets, the technician can capture high quality photos or record videos of the samples and transmit them to the doctor who no longer needs to be physically present at the lab to look through the microscope. The samples can be magnified up to 1000 times and further digitally zoomed up to 4 times [MTPL1] and viewed on a phone or tablet. There is a scope for livestreaming the examination with the doctor asking the technician to focus on multiple areas of the sample to get comprehensive information,” says Greeshma. Such remote viewing drastically reduces the turnaround time. As transmitting images is easy, pathologists can also consult their peers to firm up their opinion.
The Maharashtra-based startup has a patent on the opto-mechanical device that has enabled compatibility between the phone/tablet and the microscope.
Cilika is a significant improvement from the existing digital microscopes, which have a narrow field of vision, thus compelling pathologists to look at many more photos before drawing a conclusion. “In our system, the area covered by the images is the same as what a doctor would see under a traditional microscope[MTPL2] ,” she says, adding that their products are particularly effective for examining tissue samples where it’s imperative to see the neighbouring region of the affected area.
The innovative technology that seeks to establish a digital workflow infrastructure in an optical [MTPL3] microscopy process, has already met with an enthusiastic response in the market. “We have AIIMS in Raipur, Nagpur and Patna and military hospitals at several places, including in Leh and Shillong, as our clients. We are surprised at the way educational institutions have taken to this product. Instead of students queuing up to look through the microscope, teachers can now show a sample to a class by projecting the images on a screen,” says Greeshma.
Ideal for the hub and spoke model followed by most pathology labs, Cilika microscopes have notched up early success in the diagnostic services market with Dr Lal PathLabs, a leading blood test laboratory of India, enlisted as a customer.
Glowing praise has come from Dr Raghunath Narayanan Unni, co-founder of Redepath Diagnostics, who said, “My colleagues and I are very happy with Cilika! With Cilika, capturing images is easy, the image quality is great, and there’s no lag in moving these high-resolution images. Sharing images and observations takes less than 30 seconds. Recording measurements has never been this simple and accurate, and is of great help in reporting tumours and other large specimens.”
The startup will also explore use cases in pharmaceutical and food industries but for that to happen the product will have to undergo certain modifications.
Founded by Samrat, Greeshma Unnikrishnan, Mahesh Kumar Rathor, and Binil Jacob – all batchmates at IIT-Bombay’s Biomedical Engineering course – the company was fired by the zeal to create a medical device for the Indian market, which is dominated by products researched and created abroad. “Apart from the steep price factor, most of these equipment have features that are hardly suited to Indian realities,” says Greeshma.
The inspiration for Cilika came from Samrat’s M-Tech project on sickle cell anaemia detection. Samrat, who had three patents to his credit before coming to IIT-B, had built a portable microscope to specifically identify this inherited blood disorder. In 2015, when the project was over and the founders graduated from IIT-B, they decided to develop digital microscopes.
Currently, Cilika microscopes are available in two models: portable and desktop. The portable comes in both standard and premium variants. Compact, handy and lightweight, it can easily be transported and used anywhere. This completely digital device is powered by rechargeable batteries that give up to 15 hours of backup. It can be set up at labs, hospitals, classrooms, seminar halls or on the field.
The benchtop series, available in standard and premium models, are fitted with a removable digital head. This feature allows them to be used also as a regular microscope. Perfect for routine work in diagnostic labs and hospitals, it can be used for testing all kinds of samples such as blood, urine, semen, tissues, microbes, and smears.
Social Alpha’s role
“MedPrime’s vision and work are compatible with Social Alpha’s MedTech thesis,” says Alay Parikh, Portfolio Manager for MedPrime. “The startup addresses the lack of availability of quality pathology services across the country through digitisation and automation of microscopy and enabling telepathology through their products. MedPrime’s innovation responds to the high priority problem statements of the SA MedTech Thesis – Digital workflow infrastructure for access to timely diagnostics and improving the quality of life for healthcare workforce. The company has also demonstrated market traction and execution capability and is gearing up to scale their current product lines and proceed to R&D of a semi-automatic ML/AI compatible digital microscope, with immediate capital infusion,” he says.