Editor’s note: January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. We are re-sharing this story, initially published in September 2022, to underscore the potential for artificial intelligence to save lives while closing the gaps in equitable health care.
Four students might have just come up with an idea that could save thousands of lives a year in the U.S. while cutting down on health care costs and inequities.
The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School alumni —Charlie Acosta, Hayley Hoaglund, Tomas Delia, and Madeleine Howard—developed the “smart tampon” innovation in their artificial intelligence course lab as part of their full-time MBA program. It combines what they learned about economic forces, business applications, and mathematical and computational foundations to come up with the AI application.
“COVID-19 has forced the field of health care to be more innovative than it has ever been,” said Hoaglund. “The US has the highest spending on health care in the world, so if we can re-think how we deliver essential services, there is a tremendous opportunity for cost savings and to increase access to care.”
How it could work
Cervical cancer is typically detected through a Pap smear, which is a test that scrapes the surface of the cervix to collect cells for examination and detection of unusual growth. Medical experts advise that the average woman between ages 21 and 65 have this test every three years. But between work and wages lost for the appointment, the potential costs of the visit, and the discomfort and anxiety it can cause, many women forego the screening, allowing a disease that’s highly treatable in early stages to advance before detection.
As conceived by the Carey group, the “smart tampon” would be inserted as a normal tampon would, though not during menstruation and only for the time it takes to gather data. At its top, a highly sensitive camera would take images of the cervix and feed them into AI-integrated software for analysis. This would be connected to an app, to which the provider and the patient would have access. A simple red light would tell the provider there could be an irregularity, and would prompt the user to seek medical care. A green light would indicate normal cervical health.
If the invention attracts investors who want to help it get to market, the student researchers believe it could be prescribed by a provider once every three years, and be covered by insurance.