The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday August 5th

UNC student contributes to safer pregnancies with biomedical technology startup

Every year, 76,000 women and 500,000 babies die of the pregnancy complication preeclampsia. A team of biomedical engineers and doctors are collaborating to change this grim reality with their startup, MoyoMedical Technologies.  

What originally began as a class project for UNC PhD candidate Denali Dahl, Uganda's Makerere University student Zoe Sekyonda and Makerere University graduate Brian Matovu, quickly became a biotechnology startup that led them to create a health device known as Early Preeclampsia Detection Strip or EPED. 

"What inspired us to become a startup was really just realizing that one of the quickest ways to translate technology from research to in the field having an impact, is through entrepreneurship," Dahl said.

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication due to high blood pressure that can result in organ damage or death and is manageable if diagnosed early. But for women in low-resource areas where access to frequent medical care during pregnancy is limited, the risk of developing preeclampsia is higher than for women who have continuous prenatal care. 

"Ultimately we're hoping to reduce the burden of undiagnosed preeclampsia and improve maternal health worldwide,” Dahl said. 

MoyoMedical’s EPED technology is a device women can use to test their urine to see if they are at risk of developing preeclampsia. The strip will give a binary output that will tell women if they are at risk for the condition or not, and they can seek medical attention as necessary.

“MoyoMedical is important because it really changes how we approach this very critical disease,” said Elizabeth Ndichu, the team's market researcher.

Dahl’s ultimate goal is to make sure all women in low-resource settings have access to this EPED technology, but she said there may also need to be a for-profit dimension in MoyoMedical’s business model in order to accomplish this. 

“The dream picture would be to have a hybrid business structure where we could have a for-profit arm that can sell this strip to women in the U.S. or women in high-resource settings and that could support a nonprofit arm that could either subsidize the cost of (the) strip or help produce them for free for women regardless of their ability to pay,” Dahl said. 

For Ndichu, the primary goal to address preeclampsia not only promotes health for women, but also empowers them and their communities. 

“When you empower women, families are empowered, people seek education, the economy in the community and the country grows,” Ndichu said. 

To create technology that has such capabilities, there has to be an awareness for the context which the technology will be used, Dahl said.

"I feel like a lot of times technology is developed in a bubble and doesn't have a good grasp on what the context is, or how people are going to use it, or if they are even interested in using it," Dahl said.

Ndichu said MoyoMedical's team diversity enhances this collaboration. 

“The very diverse backgrounds really makes MoyoMedical unique and puts MoyoMedical in a position to attain most of the objectives we lay out,” Ndichu said. 

The EPED technology is still being developed, but Dahl hopes a prototype will be finished in the next year.

@JessySnouwaert

university@dailytarheel.com

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