Johns Hopkins students win $10K prize for low-cost breast cancer screening tool

Team Ithemba, named after the Zulu word meaning 'hope,' recognized for efforts to solve a global health problem

Ithemba team photo

Image caption: Team Ithemba members (from left to right) Laura Hinson, Madeline Lee, Valerie Zawicki, and Sophia Triantis.

A group of Johns Hopkins undergraduates are one of three student teams from across the U.S. to win a 2019 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for their development of a safe, low-cost, reusable breast biopsy device.

The winning Johns Hopkins team, Ithemba—named after the Zulu word meaning "hope"—includes four biomedical engineering students—sophomores Laura Hinson, Madeline Lee, and Sophia Triantis, and junior Valerie Zawicki. The team won the $10,000 "Cure It!" prize.

Prizes are awarded to young inventors who have dedicated themselves to solving global problems based on the inventiveness of the work, the invention's potential for commercialization or adoption, and youth mentorship experience. A total of $90,000 in prizes, announced Tuesday, went to seven teams or individuals—three made up of undergraduate students, four made up of graduate students.

For their project, Ithemba created a reusable, core-needle biopsy driver for diagnosing breast cancer. While disposable CNB drivers are currently used throughout the developed world, reusable drivers are more common in low and middle-income countries. These reusable drivers are easily contaminated, and the cleaning process is expensive and can take up to 24 hours.

The team members of Ithemba have created a CNB driver that can be easily sterilized with a bleach wipe and reused. Their driver features a chamber that collects contaminants and separates the needle attachment from the spring mechanism that fires the disposable needle. The device has an expected lifespan of up to 20 years before it needs to be replaced.

The team filed for a patent in May 2018 and is currently researching low-cost manufacturing methods and firming up its estimated costs.

The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is supported by The Lemelson Foundation and supports inventors in the fields of health care, transportation and mobility, food/water and agriculture, and consumer devices. The 2020 Student Prize application will open next month.

"We congratulate this year's winners for their outstanding work tackling significant challenges in order to improve lives both in the United States and around the world," said Carol Dahl, executive director at The Lemelson Foundation. "This diverse group of students drives home the opportunity that exists to inspire young minds across the country to create the essential inventions of today and tomorrow."