MobileOCT, an Israeli medical technology start-up, is the winner of a prestigious prize distributed by international communications giant Vodafone for conducting a program to help residents of the US-Mexican border area detect cervical cancer. The venture, run in conjunction with San Diego-based nonprofit health care system Scripps Health and Tijuana-based community organization Fronteras Unidas Pro Salud, placed first in the 2014 Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project. The award was presented Thursday night, May 29, in a ceremony at the Social Innovation Summit at the United Nations Plaza in New York City.

MobileOCT’s technology uses mobile phones to detect cervical cancer in women with a device based on the principles of biophotonics. The combination of biology and photonics utilizes cameras and light to detect photons. The company’s first product is a low-cost mobile colposcope, a microscope used in cervix examinations, a simple mobile phone enhanced by a lens and a set of algorithms that enable advanced screening for cancer. MobileOCT’s app takes the data from the colposcope to determine the presence of cancer or pre-cancerous cells, based on photonic analysis of molecules, cells and tissue.

The Israeli company and its partners worked to conduct low-cost cervical cancer screening for 1,000 low-income immigrant patients in the area of the border between San Diego and Tijuana. The International Community Foundation plans to serve as the project’s fiscal sponsor and provide additional technical expertise. The foundation has been involved in a similar multi-year mobile health clinical study in Tijuana using standard cervical cancer screening.

According to UN statistics, cervical cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer death for poor women worldwide. In the developed world, women ages 21 to 65 undergo routine cervical cancer screening (the “Pap test”) at their gynecologist or gynecological clinic. The American Association of Family Physicians says that approximately 55 million women have a Pap test in the US annually. Of those, approximately 4 million women per year have an abnormal result. Women with abnormal Pap tests return for a colposcopy, a procedure in which the cervix is examined microscopically and biopsies are performed. Treatment, if necessary, can then be provided.

According to the World Health Organization, 85 percent of women worldwide do not have adequate access to any cervical cancer screening. The result of inadequate screening means 473,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 253,500 will die from the disease, every year.

Ariel Beery (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Ariel Beery (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Cervical cancer usually takes 20 years to develop, giving doctors a very long window of time to detect the disease, while screening takes just a few minutes and costs no more than $28. Still, many women do not have a chance to get proper screening, which bothers MobileOCT CEO Ariel Beery a great deal. A long-time community activist, Beery is a former head of PresenTense, which helps young Jewish entrepreneurs create socially-conscious start-ups. Beery founded MobileOCT two years ago with Dr. David Levitz to use technology to develop low-cost, tech-based detection systems for cancers of all kinds. The company decided to start with cervical cancer, but expects to have mobile device-based screening systems for other kinds of cancers in the coming year.

“We are deeply privileged to be recognized by Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project, and will use the award to bring our low-cost cancer screening technology to the women who need it most,” said Beery. “Thanks to the support of Vodafone Americas Foundation, our team will demonstrate the potential of using mobile health solutions to offer cost-effective, life-saving diagnostics to the billions of women around the world without access to good reproductive health services.”