Today’s Ask the CAMTech Innovator blog features a special Q&A with Dr. Sumona Karjee Mishra, Founder and Director at Prantae Solutions Pvt. and a recent winner at CAMTech-X: Jugaadathon in Bhubaneswar, India. Her team, Salubrious, developed a solution that helps improve micronutrient deficiency among the urban poor by blending micronutrients into commonly eaten foods, such as biscuits. Dr. Sumona is a DBT-BIRAC SIIP fellow at KIIT-Technology Business Incubator (KIIT-TBI), who regularly writes and reviews several international scientific journals and is passionate about translating high-science into affordable technologies. She earned a PhD in Biotechnology from the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), New Delhi, India.
Dr. Sumona talks to CAMTech about what it takes to succeed as a female innovator and entrepreneur, and is a passionate advocate for gender equality and visibility in the global medtech space. As a preeclampsia-survivor and mother of a micro-preemie, she has devoted her to career to improving maternal and child health by developing specialized diagnostics for pregnancy complications. With funding support from various research and educational groups, she has created two innovative devices for early detection of preeclampsia.
Tell us a little bit about your background and work in maternal and child health.
Maternal and child health (MCH) is a very sensitive yet neglected domain. I started working in the field as a social immersion innovation program fellow under the SPARSH project of the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC)-DBT Government of India at KIIT-TBI. During the immersion phase, I came across various overlooked problems in MCH, like awareness, micronutrient deficiency, lack of point of care diagnostics, lack of self-health monitoring devices and early diagnostics for pregnancy complications.
Can you talk about your work related to preeclampsia and your reasons for pursuing this area of MCH?
Preeclampsia is one of the most serious complications to occur during pregnancy, and it’s a major cause one of death among mothers and infants. It’s prevalence rate is much higher than the official figures of 5-8% (according to one of my own surveys, it is at least 20%). It causes irreparable damage to the mother’s health, and leads to complications for babies due to low birth weight and pre-term deliveries. The lack of early diagnostics and sudden onset of clinical symptoms wreaks physical, emotional and financial havoc on pregnant woman and their families, and it’s equally challenging for the health care providers to treat due to its unpredictability.
Tell us about the health innovations you are developing to improve care in this arena.
We have innovated two devices for early detection of preeclampsia at an early stage that enable health practitioners to identify high risk pregnancies so that they can design the appropriate schedule of monitoring and management. As a part of our initiative, we are developing a self-monitoring device for micro-albumin analysis in urine. The presence of albumin in urine is a good biomarker for preeclampsia but current detection methods are dependent on pathology lab reports and tend to only show a range of albumin values. Our device is highly sensitive, gives precise digital value and allows women to self-monitor their own care. We recently received a Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) grant from the Government of India for prototyping and field-testing.
We are also developing another state-of-the-art device based on high-end technology of ‘nanoparticle plasmon resonance’. The device is an attempt to bring the highly sensitive bio-marker known as microRNA to an affordable platform for early (as early as in the 1st trimester) detection of preeclampsia, giving a window period of more that 10-12 wks for management initiation.
Both of these projects have also received financial assistance from BIRAC-DBT, the Strategic Instructional Innovations Program (SIIP), Tata Trusts and the Harvard University South Asia Institute (SAI).
What motivated you to devote your energy and focus into women’s health issues?
As a woman, I understand these health issues and can stand for them with conviction. Incidentally, I am a preeclampsia survivor, and have experienced pregnancy complications that threatened both daughter’s and my own life. I have suffered, but am determined to make sure that there will come a time when no woman will lose her life or her health to preventable pregnancy complications.
What were your primary goals for attending CAMTech-X: Jugaadathon? Was this your first time at a hack-a-thon?
CAMTech-X: Jugaadathon was a great experience! It was my first time and I enjoyed it. The primary goal was to learn, to break the shell and to interact with different fertile minds. Forty-eight hours of ideations, implementations and executions? I couldn’t ask for more.
What strengths did you bring to your team?
My team was great. I worked with two energetic, intelligent young men, Nilotpal Majumder and Aryan Jaiswal, both of whom were enthusiastic, yet disciplined. Without them, it would have been impossible to win the Hack.
What was it like to work alongside other medtech innovators? How did it feel to take part in India’s first multi-city hack-a-thon?
It was amazing to hear about various problem statements and innovate for different out-of-the-box solutions. CAMTech should be applauded for successfully organizing such a big event in multiple cities. It was such a great feeling to be part of the event, and I hope to see all of the talent from other cities on June 17th in New Delhi.
What project did your team work on? What are your goals for moving it forward?
Our project proposed a culturally acceptable solution for the hidden hunger ‘micronutrient deficiency’ among India’s urban poor. We tried to create the solution with them and not for them. We have incorporated the micronutrient formulation in a food item that they consume regularly (a biscuit) that can be fortified without altering taste or price. We plan to look for more customer, seller and bakery-owner feedback on the solution and will work on the formulation of the product. If we win the CAMTech-X: Jugaadathon final prize, we also plan to establish a GMP unit to begin production.
What is it like to be a woman in the global health/medtech innovation space? What are some of the challenges you have encountered as you have pioneered new ideas?
It is wonderful to be part of the innovation space. Women have always been creative and innovative. Now, bolstered by the call to #beboldtochange (the United Nation’s theme for International Women’s Day 2017), we will be more visible in the arena. As a woman, the main challenge or rather, the “perception” that follows us is whether or not we can handle the pressure of managing our careers and our home life. People may ask, ‘Will you be able to balance your aspirations with your family responsibilities?’ These are questions and ideas that will change with time, as more and more women succeed as entrepreneurs and innovators.
What can female entrepreneurs and innovators do to gain more visibility and recognition throughout the global health and medtech landscape in India?
Businesswomen should come together and make a platform for themselves, ‘Woman For Woman’. The platform will mentor, support and prepare women around the world to gain more visibility and recognition in the male-dominated global and medtech landscape.
What needs to be done in order to reach gender equality within the global health arena and for women to succeed as leaders in the space?
Personally, I feel women are born leaders and that they will find their way to success. We should try to create an ecosystem where they won’t feel alienated or uncomfortable. They should be treated not just as women, but as fellow entrepreneurs, friends and human beings.