Meet Team ParaSight

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As the winners of Western’s 2023 World’s Challenge Challenge competition, Team ParaSight is getting ready to represent Western at the Global Final in June, where they will compete against 12 teams from around the globe who have come up with big ideas to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Who They Are

  • Robert Cunningham: just completed his fourth year of a dual degree in Mechatronic Systems Engineering and Medical Biophysics.
  • Justin Yang, BMSc'23: will be attending medical school at Western in the fall.
  • Sammy Farnum just completed his fourth year in Mechatronics Systems Engineering and the Ivey HBA Program.

Their Big Idea

A laboratory-grade pathology microscope for a fraction of the cost, powered by computational imaging, that can be used to diagnose malaria in remote and resource-constrained areas.

The Impact

“According to the World Health Organization, there are almost 250 million cases of malaria every year, and more than 700,000 deaths and the vast majority are in children under five years old,” said Robin.

“The scariest part is that often you don't know you have it, and then within 24 hours, it can become lethal. Someone I know personally was on vacation, went to bed with a sniffle and woke up in hospital. He was fortunate to be someone with resources, who could afford to be flown by helicopter to the nearest hospital. But, if you're a local resident in a remote village, that's not going to be an option.

I can only imagine the terror of going to bed with a sniffle or your child going to bed with one and the result is death. To be able to make these diagnoses accessible to people who can't just take a helicopter hundreds of kilometers to the nearest big hospital, would be really impactful.” 

The Beginning

Two years ago, team member Justin was involved in a summer research project led by Ian Cunningham, a professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics and Division of Medical Imaging and Biomedical Engineering at Western.

The project was part of Western’s Frugal Biomedical Innovations (FBI) Program a multi-disciplinary initiative established to facilitate co-design, development and deployment of innovative medical technologies to improve health care access for patients in remote and low-resource contexts.

Working with Academics Without Borders and in collaboration with William Wasswa, a professor from Mbarara University of Science & Technology in Uganda, Professor Cunningham and his team were specifically focused on developing a low-cost digital light microscope for remote diagnosis of malaria in resource-constrained areas.

Building and Expanding

Robin, who was working on a different project in a lab near Justin, learned about the work being done and was eager to get involved. The following year, Sammy also joined the group and Team ParaSight was born. The team’s goal was to build upon the existing research and develop an even more accessible option.  

“I was going through the literature to see if there are any modalities or specific techniques that we can implement to reduce the cost of devices that we have and one of the algorithms that I came across was this called Fourier ptychography, which our proposed product is based off,” said Justin.

“The overall motivation of reducing deaths from malaria was already there because we were working with another lab in Uganda, but the specific solution or the specific technology that we propose is something that I came across while doing literature search, and we just implemented in a low-cost context.”

Looking Ahead

The team is aiming to have a minimum viable product done by the end of 2023.  

“Our goal is to integrate it all into one product. What we have now is a prototype, but it’s just the microscope. It works great for research, but we need to make some modifications to turn it into a single, self-contained product you can use in any environment,” said Robin. “We are working on translating the software onto the actual product, as well as making it functional as a single unit without needing power supply.”

Representing Western

The team says they are looking forward to pitching their idea to the Global Final judges and the possibility of receiving the $30,000 in prize money, as well as to connecting with the other attendees.  

“I am most excited for the opportunity to meet with other individuals who come from drastically different backgrounds,” said Sammy. “This is an excellent chance to meet future global leaders of the world and learn notable lessons from students who can share diverse experiences.”

Attend the Global Final

Join the World’s Challenge Challenge Global Final events taking place both in person and online:

June 6:

  • Virtual keynote with award-winning author Ziya Tong,
  • Virtual Personal Branding Workshop with Western alumni Phil Pallen

June 8:

  • Final Competition (virtual or in person)