After seeing her son suffer from epilepsy, a mother from Bangalore turns to digital sensor technology and her trusty sewing skills to help others detect seizures before it’s too late.
Raji Borthakur’s table is overflowing with cakes, sweets and milk tea. She saunters in and adds more food to the table. She’s talking about the story that dominates her life: If only she’d had early warning, Borthakur could’ve protected her son from the dangers of sudden unconsciousness.
Already there is too much food on the table. “You sure you don’t want some more?” she asked.
Her son Tejas, age 5, steps in, smiling coyly on one side. His eyes glance elsewhere. As a baby, Tejas, or more affectionately known as TJay, only began rolling over at nine months, compared to one to two months for most babies. He took his first step at age two.
By the time TJay himself was properly diagnosed with epilepsy, the seizures had already significantly impeded his growth.
“I had a lot of rage in me,” Borthakur said. “We had doctors, everything in the world, but why was my son like this? If it was diagnosed earlier, he would probably have been a little better off.”
With no prior experience in engineering, she came up with the idea of a “smart glove” that can predict epilepsy seizures before they happen. Although the glove is still just a prototype, Borthakur has already beaten hundreds of budding inventors across India to enter the final round of the Innovate for Digital India Challenge, a nationwide competition for inventors and makers.
The glove, which she named “TJay” after her son, uses 10 sensors powered by a small Intel Edison compute module. The technology tracks body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure to help doctors build a more comprehensive understanding of epilepsy in their patients.
Previously, doctors had relied on an electroencephalogram test (EEG) to diagnose a case of epilepsy. An EEG test detects abnormalities by measuring electrical impulses in the brain. But Borthakur said this global ‘gold standard’ approach to detection has its limits.
“The problem is that when they [epilepsy patients] go for an EEG, they might be feeling quite fine and normal then,” Borthakur explained. “These tests can range from a few hours to a few days, depending on the infrastructure of the hospital.”
Epileptic patients can’t be under analysis 24/7, and unless the patient is actually experiencing a seizure at the time of the EEG test, the scan results will remain inconclusive for doctors.
“This makes it difficult for doctors to give a formal diagnosis on epilepsy,” Borthakur explained.
“In my mind, it looked simple: If it is electrical signals or different signals from the body, we have the technology to capture it,” she said. “So why is nobody doing it? If no one’s doing it, does it mean it’s not possible?”
The TJay Smart Glove goes a step beyond tracking brainwave activity. It also measures and consolidates a range of ten matrices from the body, mapping out physiological patterns unique to each epileptic patient.
When the glove is worn it tracks conditions in real time, plotting a comprehensive collection of data that can indicate when the next seizure might strike.
This prompted Borthakur to start her own company, TerraBlue XT, focuses on commercializing the TJay Smart Glove for the global market.
She’s looking beyond epilepsy, determined to have the smart glove help monitor other neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.
When asked whether she considered herself an inventor, Borthakur cringes.
“I’m not an inventor, just a Maker,” she said. “I did not (even) start out wanting to be an entrepreneur. I was just looking for answers.”
She’s clearly found one.
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