A tiny cellphone accessory invented by a young man from India will soon be used to tackle that country’s growing diabetes and obesity problems, thanks to $1 million in funding from the Canadian government.
Financial backing from the Grand Challenges Canada innovation program will accelerate development of 31-year-old Sidhant Jena’s novel “mobile blood lab.”
If everything goes according to plans, Jena hopes up to 20,000 people in India will have the device, known as the Aina, in hand sometime next year.
Within three years, it’s hoped one million diabetic patients will be using it. The plan also calls for health-care workers in India to use it to test another two million patients as part of a government screening program.
The device will make testing for diabetes and other chronic conditions easy and affordable.
“Our goal is very simple. The company’s motto is to reverse diabesity,” Jena said, borrowing a term coined by bestselling author and popular TED Talks speaker Dr. Mark Hyman.
Jena arrived in Toronto on Sunday, travelling from Bangalore, where he and business partner Michael Depa — a native Montrealer — are preparing to manufacture the Aina.
Jena will be attending the Grand Challenges Canada India Health Innovation Summit, co-hosted by the National Council of Indo-Canadians, in Toronto on Monday.
There, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander is scheduled to announce funding for the Aina. As well, he will announce proof-of-concept grants, $112,000 each, for projects at earlier stages of development.
Grand Challenges Canada, which is funded by the federal government, offers financial backing to health-care innovators in low- and middle-income countries and Canada.
The Aina plugs into a smartphone and performs six blood tests. It can do daily glucose monitoring, plus the three-month average AIC blood-sugar test. It does lipid profiles, measuring for LDL and HDL cholesterol. It also does hemoglobin and creatinine blood tests.
Results can be transmitted to health professionals.
Priced at less than $30, Jena said the device will be affordable and accessible in India, where cellphones are ubiquitous.
Nearly 62 million people in India have diabetes, a number that is expected to rise to 80 million by 2030.
“Grand Challenges supports bold ideas with big impact,” said CEO Dr. Peter Singer. “Turning a smartphone into a mobile blood sugar monitoring device is bold. Relieving the burden of diabetes has big impact.”
Jena and Depa started working on the concept of the mobile blood lab when they were both studying in Massachusetts. In 2011, Jena graduated from Harvard with an MBA and Depa graduated from MIT with a doctorate in computer science.
The pair was among a group of Boston-area academics studying how to tackle global health problems.
Upon graduation, Jena returned to his native India, along with Depa, where they continued their work. Last year, their company, Jana Care, was given its first boost from Grand Challenges in the form of a $100,000-plus proof-of-concept grant to refine the Aina prototype.
The $1-million funding injection from Grand Challenges will be matched by private investors, including Unitus Impact, a venture capital firm that aims to increase incomes and improve livelihoods of the working poor in Asia.