Bengaluru-based deep-tech start-up Niramai announced to develop cutting edge Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based software tool to help doctors detect river blindness early.

River blindness aka Onchocerciasis is dangerous and yet most neglected tropical skin disease in the world. It is caused by a parasitic filarial worm, Onchocerca volvulus, which is usually hosted by the blackflies ( Simulium damnosum ) which breed in fast-flowing rivers. When human get bitten by the black flies, the tiny parasite gets transmitted to the body and mostly settle in nodules beneath the skin and in some instances go deep inside the muscles of the infected person. If not treated, it can stay there for up to 15 years and in worst cases, the larvae of the parasite can migrate into the eye and cause blindness.

Black Fly, River blindness
Adult Black Fly (Simulium yahense) with (Onchocerca volvulus) emerging from the insect's antenna. The parasite is responsible for the disease known as en:River Blindness in Africa. Sample was chemically fixed and critical point dried, then observed using conventional scanning electron microscopy.Wikimedia Commons (screen-grab)

Understanding the severity of the disease, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded Niramai to develop technology to detect River Blindness disease early so that patients get timely medication before they develop vision disability.

The company will be using its in-house innovative AI-based Thermalytix technique, a non-invasive detection method to help assess the efficacy of new drugs being developed to control the disease by killing the adult worms, potentially accelerating the elimination of river blindness, which has today infects close to 17 million people in Africa.

"Onchocerciasis, more commonly known as river blindness, is the world's second leading infectious cause of blindness. NIRAMAI technology can be a valuable tool to detect infectious live worms in a non-invasive way and help with the global effort to eliminate this very disabling disease." About half a million people are blind or visually impaired due to the disease which is caused by a parasitic worm living under the skin in humans, spread by black fly bites. In addition to blinding, onchocerciasis is a chronic systemic disease capable of causing extensive and disfiguring skin disease, chronic itching, musculoskeletal complaints, weight loss, alteration in host immune responses and possibly epilepsy and growth impairment. Onchocerciasis can have a considerable impact on social relationships in poorest communities. Therefore, its control and elimination have been a high priority," Professor Dr Christopher L King from The Centre for Global Health and Diseases, Cleveland, who is collaborating with Niramai said in a statement.

River blindess, Niramai, Bengaluru, start-up
(Left-Right) Nidhi Mathur and Dr Geetha Manjunath, co-founders of Bengaluru's deep-tech start-up firm, Niramai.Press Kit

It can be noted that Thermalytix technique combines thermal imaging with artificial intelligence which is already under use to detect early-stage breast cancer in many hospitals today.

Niramai is a startup offering a radiation-free, non-invasive, non-touch, breast cancer screening solution. It was co-founded by Dr Geetha Manjunath and Nidhi Mathur in 2016.