LONDON–Neeti Kailas, a young Indian woman on a mission to bring universal hearing screening of newborn babies to her country, is one of six visionaries under age 30 named to receive this year’s Rolex Awards for Enterprise. The winners, selected from 1800 applicants, were announced on June 24 by the Royal Society in London. Each will receive 50,000 Swiss francs (about $56,000).
Kailas will use her prize money to conduct clinical trials of a device she and her husband, Nitin Sisodia, have developed to detect hearing loss in infants. Kailas’s battery-powered equipment is designed to work in noisy settings, such as newborn hospital wards, by tuning out ambient noise. Electrodes in the headband-like device identify brain activity associated with normal hearing.
Kailas, a 29-year-old graduate of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, expects the device to cost about $4000, but is exploring ways to make it more affordable.
A DAUNTING CHALLENGE
An estimated 100,000 babies a year are born in India with hearing loss, yet for lack of funds and trained personnel only a small minority of newborns are screened for the condition. The equipment that Kailas and her husband, an engineer, have invented is relatively inexpensive and also portable, so it can be used wherever babies are born.
Since it is non-invasive, it does not require an infant to be sedated. Its use involves placing three electrodes on the baby’s head to detect electrical responses normally generated by the brain’s auditory system when stimulated. The absence of such responses to aural stimuli indicates that the child has a hearing impairment.
Kailas plans to start clinical trials of the device this year. If they prove successful, she hopes to launch it in 2016, and screen 2% of births in Indian hospitals in the first year. Her ultimate goal is to make newborn hearing screening as routine in India as it is in most of the world’s more affluent nations.
To help accomplish that she has devised an innovative approach to rolling out the technology through pediatricians, maternity homes, health care workers, and entrepreneurs, who will buy the devices and then charge a small fee for every test.
More information on this project is available from Sohum Innovation Lab, where the infant hearing screening device was developed.
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise are a philanthropic program of Rolex SA, based in Geneva, Switzerland.