Israeli Startup Brings Life-Saving Cervical Scans to Ukrainian Women Under Fire
An Israeli startup that developed the first remote gynecological imaging platform for life-saving cervical exams is bringing its devices to women in Ukraine under Russia’s ongoing invasion.
illumigyn’s Gynescope, a type of gynecology endoscope, has been chosen as one of the remote technologies to be part of the Israeli humanitarian field hospital, which this week opened its doors to war refugees in the western Ukrainian town of Mostyska. The startup’s remote gynecological imaging system, which enables real-time visualization and documentation of pelvic exams, can be operated by any trained medical staff.
“The use of our imaging device system to connect between a remote physician in Israel and a patient in Ukraine to get the best expert advice is something that is one of the key features of illumigyn’s technology for women diagnosis,” illumigyn’s co-founder Ran Poliakine told The Algemeiner during an interview this week. “Our mission is to democratize women’s healthcare and improve women’s health in developed and developing countries.”
illumigyn’s FDA-cleared Gynescope system uses advanced technology to create high-resolution digital images with magnification of the cervix, vagina and external genitalia. Taken with an auto-focus camera, the images are uploaded to a cloud platform for personnel to early-on detect and treat cervical cancer and other diseases. The digital documents can be viewed in real time on a tablet and used for remote diagnosis and ongoing medical supervision, without the need for invasive procedures.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally, with about 604,000 new cases leading to 342,000 deaths in 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). About 90 percent of new cases and deaths worldwide in 2020 were recorded in low- and middle-income countries. Cervical cancer can be cured if diagnosed at an early stage and treated promptly — but conventional cervical exams, and the need for subsequent biopsies, limit early detection and diagnostic accuracy, according to Poliakine.
Poliakine recounted that more than 10 years ago, his future co-founder, Lior Greenstein, came to him with the idea after his wife’s visit to the gynecologist. Greenstein, a former engineer at Israeli electronics technology company Orbotech, told Poliakine that the technology used for screening was “something from the last century, basically, it’s a magnifying glass and a lot of goodwill.”
“There is a big gap between women’s health, or ‘fem-tech,’ and other areas of health, so our vision is to bridge this gap and disrupt the health market for women, who account for more than 50 percent of the population,” Poliakine said. “We believe we are able to save a lot of lives. That’s really what we are trying to do.”
According to Poliakine, the core technology of the multispectral cameras came from the Israel Air Force, and is often used in the mass production lines in the semiconductor industry.
“Technology today is overlapping, so you can shift usage from one industry to another. We took a very mature technology in the production line that came from the defense industry,” Poliakine explained. “Every production line today in China has cameras that are tuned to look for specific defects. We shifted the technology into what we were looking at — by using big data and the benchmark of pathologies that we know that are bad, and a lot of things that we know that are good, and we teach the algorithm how to look at it.”
The camera developed for the Gynescope, which fits inside the handle of a standard speculum used by gynecologists and oncologists, scans the cervical area with different wavelengths of light to detect abnormal tissue invisible to the human eye. It helps make scans more efficient by looking into only what is suspicious, instead of having to take several tissue samples for biopsy tests.
“We are the only company that provides true access to screening in remote areas anywhere with connectivity to the Internet,” Poliakine noted. “We hope to create a sense of togetherness, because a female patient from South Sudan has the same exact access as someone from Israel or the US.”
Using a pay-per-scan model, illumigyn connects community and medical centers to the service without charging for the Gynescope device. The startup announced in November that it raised $33 million to deploy the system in the US, the United Arab Emirates, India, Singapore, and South Korea. At the end of last year, it started distributing 20,000 Gynescope devices across Africa.
Poliakine said that the Gynescope system attracted particular interest from the Emirates, as it provides patients with modern diagnostic technology while respecting traditional religious rules.
“In the UAE and in the Muslim world they like to keep religious tradition for patients to be treated by a female physician,” Poliakine said. “With our system, the patient can get a scan performed by a female caregiver while a male physician sits next door to view the images.”
A believer in raising awareness about early detection, Poliakine pointed to a new illumigyn project that brings a mobile van to remote Arab and Jewish communities in Israel for examinations.
“If you look what [will be] missing in the world in 50 years, it is food, energy, healthcare and, maybe education — so as long as we can export these things from Israel we can become very important to the world, and [stay] relevant and strong,” Poliakine said. “Our ability to use technology and use this platform to get it not only to the privileged ones, but also to the less privileged ones, is part of a bigger ‘relevance program’ that will also indirectly help Israel — in a way that is maybe more significant than having the best weapon.”