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SPOTLIGHT: South African entrepreneur launches AI Solution designed for breast cancer identification

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Breast cancer remains the highest rate of mortality in South African women and those living in rural areas face multiple barriers in screening.

Kathryn Malherbe, CEO and founder of Medsol, is working on the development of deep machine learning (DML) and artificial intelligence (AI) software that addresses this issue. Medsol’s Breast AI Solution is software designed for breast cancer identification and segmentation for breast ultrasound in the diagnostic imaging sector.

Medsol Breast AI is an online patient based platform that receives images for ultrasound units in practice. The images are then fed into a unique system that identifies any abnormal breast cancer masses. This high tech system speaks to both the specialist physician and the patient to provide diagnostic solutions, education and support for their journey.

“Our software is mobile and hands free, and is ideal for rural based institutions wanting to improve their diagnostic output,” explains Kathryn. “Women living in rural areas experience higher false-positive cancer rates on diagnostic mammography. They also have lower screening mammography uptake and more advanced stage cancer at diagnosis.”

Like most business owners, Kathryn started off working a normal ‘9 to 5’ job  in the corporate sector, where she learnt most of the skills and business expertise that she implements in her business today. Her passion and drive to follow her dreams came from witnessing breast cancer survivors and their determination to get better despite the hardships they faced. From then on, she was more that confident about chasing her dreams and never looked back. “It was the most daring, scariest choice of my entire professional career,” she says.

Having worked in clinical practice for the past 15 years, Kathryn was inspired to understand why breast cancers are often missed during ultrasound imaging. Currently she is completing her PhD in Clinical Anatomy at the University of Pretoria, where she also serves as a lecturer. Lecturing is a one of her passions, as she loves interacting with the students and being able to share her knowledge to motivate and inspire them.

“We employ breast cancer survivors as ambassadors to promote breast education. This boosts the local economy by creating jobs and also helps to break the stigma associated with this disease,” explains Kathryn. “Since starting our ambassador campaign in 2020, we have employed over 25 women across the country, and have educated and supported over 122 000 women on our online platform. We are now looking to expand to Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia.”

“We want to make AI available to everyone from all walks of life, not just for patients from private hospitals. There are so many women who face the diagnosis of breast cancer too late, and we want to narrow the gap and allow all women fair and early treatment,” says Kathryn. “Many clinics don’t have the right facilities that are needed, and having biopsies done can take up to six months for a patient to get the answer they need, delaying their standard care.”

Kathryn needed to find ways to grow her business, to assist her in taking it to new heights. “I entered the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards, and was thrilled when I was placed third place at the awards event held in February this year. I was granted R850 000 in funding support and have also been provided with the support and skills that I needed to develop my business,” she says. “ I believe that our innovation can make a real change to the high mortality rate currently associated with breast cancer in South Africa.”

Many establishments have found it extremely challenging to operate during recent times, having to find unique ways to operate and generate an income during the pandemic. “Our business has really thrived due to the restrictions around one-on-one person contact,” explains Kathryn. “The need for innovative online software solutions are now in high demand. Our software is already getting lots of corporate attention and support, and for that we are very grateful.”

As a passionate and dedicated innovator that really wants to make a meaningful difference to the lives of women, Kathryn provides advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. “If you have a passion, go for it! Don’t let the nay-sayers make you doubt yourself. Learn and read as much as you can, as knowledge is the key to success. Stand your ground but never be afraid to ask for support.”

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