Can thermography replace mammography? Yes, says Xerox

Known the world over for its photocopiers and printers, Xerox Corporation has diversified into several services. Its unit Xerox Research Centre India (XRCI), with 90 researchers on board, has been working on areas such as healthcare, transportation, and education. XRCI’s Director Manish Gupta told Business Line in an email interview that in healthcare, the focus is on cutting edge imaging technologies, such as for breast cancer.

What are XRCI’s future plans for healthcare services in India, especially with regard to patented technologies?
One example of our projects is non-contact, non-invasive imaging of body vitals. Our researchers have developed technologies that — through video cameras — can sense the state of body vitals, including respiration rate and heart rate, helping in detection and diagnosis of certain diseases.

For instance, cardiac arrhythmia can be detected through a simple analysis of video signals out of a web camera. We are taking that one step further and looking at developing a thermal camera screen for breast cancer. Our goal is to establish thermography as superior to mammography. When there is a malignant tumour, for instance, there is growth of blood vessels to feed the tumour, which shows up in the form of a thermal signature. We are developing techniques to analyse those images from a thermal camera and automatically identify the presence of a malignant tumour. Our researchers are also working on a number of wellness apps…This is part of our shift-left approach to make healthcare more proactive than reactive.

Is any other new technology in the pipeline in India?
We are working on an analytics project to predict which patients admitted in a hospital will turn serious and require admission into the ICU.

The current approach follows a methodology called MEWS — modified early warning scores — the healthcare staff take stats of the body vitals, like temperature and blood pressure, and assign scores for deviations from normal. When these scores add up to a high number, the patient is predicted to be at a risk of turning serious. But, the problem with this approach is that it is very inaccurate. Our researchers now analyse patient data and other data to help predict which patients will turn serious. This analytics capability, based on our Juvo solution, is offered out of our business group called Midas+ and helps in predicting complications when a patient is already admitted in an ICU.

Are you looking at partnerships with hospitals?
Some of the technology has been tested in the neonatal unit of Manipal Hospital. One of its key benefits is the ability to automatically analyse and detect respiratory and other medical issues in infants without requiring contact probes attached to their sensitive skin. We aim to partner with more hospitals in the long run.

Can you elaborate on the career programme in R&D for science & technology students?
While R&D might not be the most advertised career option, it provides an opportunity to do meaningful work.

The Xerox Budding Scientists programme, which aims to foster outstanding graduate and post-graduate engineering talent from top technical institutions in India, allows them to pursue advanced, high-quality research in analytics, human computation and distributed computing. We recently completed the first phase of the ‘Xerox Research Innovation Challenge’, which is open to PhD, Masters and senior undergraduates from all Indian universities to develop innovative predictive analytics techniques to address real-world issues in healthcare. In the first phase, over 3,500 students registered for this challenge.