Students’ concept for mobile hearing screening wins a global competition

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA–Someday, maybe soon, expect to see software that enables a mobile phone to screen a person for hearing loss and then wirelessly transmit the results to a medical database, where an audiologist analyzes them.

This is the idea behind the Sana AudioPulse technology, devised by students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in partnership with Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande Do Norte.

The AudioPulse won first prize in a competition held last week at the GSMA-mHealth Alliance Mobile Health Summit in Cape Town. University students from around the world were challenged to develop a mobile health (mHealth) concept that would address a specific healthcare need.

The need that the winning team selected to tackled was finding a way to reach more of the half-billion people in the world with hearing loss, a large percentage of whom live far from any kind of audiology clinic. The purpose of the AudioPulse is to enable someone with a cell phone to go into populations in remote rural areas or poverty-stricken urban neighborhoods and use the AudioPulse mobile phone app to collect data that will identify people with hearing problems.

The demand for technology that can achieve this is especially pressing in Brazil, which has passed legislation mandating that all newborns be screened for hearing loss. However, the law has not been widely implemented, since so many of the babies born in that country are beyond the reach of the trained personnel and proper equipment currently required to conduct neonatal hearing screening by conventional means.

The U.S.-Brazilian team was one of the top 13 competition entrants that were invited to attend last week’s finals at the GSMA-mHealth Alliance Mobile Health Summit. The event was held by the GSM Association (GSMA), which represents about 1000 of mobile operators and related companies, and the Mobile Health Alliance, a foundation launched by the Rockefeller Foundation in partnership with the United Nations and Vodaphone Foundations.

In Cape Town, four finalists were selected at the summit to present their ideas to a panel of venture capitalists and leaders in the mobile communication and health industries. This panel then chose the winning team.

 

TOWARD DEVELOPMENT

As the winning entry, the MIT-Federal University of Rio Grande Do Norte team will be offered mentoring toward the future development of their innovation. The students will also have the opportunity to exhibit their concept at other industry events, including the GSMA’s Connected Living Latin America Summit, which is being held in Brazil later this month.

If the AudioPulse moves from a concept to an actual technology, it will join more than 200 million mHealth applications that are already in use today, according to a new report from Pyramid Research.\

Denise Culver, who authored the report “Health Check: Key Players in Mobile Healthcare,” said “Healthcare solutions that are delivered via mobile technology are creating a new frontier of innovation that is driving down costs, increasing access, and improving quality of care.”