Women We Love: The Inventor, Dr Kemisola Bolarinwa
Welcome to this week’s ‘#WomenWeLove’ – our weekly column where we celebrate women doing amazing things in their areas of influence. From tech to fashion, social activism to politics, these women, are definitely crush-worthy. Catch up on all our crushes here!
Today, we shine the light on the Nigerian Scientist Behind the Unique Smart Bra that Aids in the Early Detection of Breast Cancer, Dr. Kemisola Bolarinwa.
Photo credit: wordsthatcount.org
Her early days….
From a very young age, Kemisola Bolarinwa has been an innovator. She still recalls the joy of her first eureka moment in high school when together with a friend, they created the transistor radio used for the inter-school competition.
“Watching that radio work ignited a passion in me; I knew from that day that I would be an inventor,” Bolarinwa remembered.
In secondary school at St Helen’s Unity Secondary School, Ondo, she was an active member of the Junior Engineers, Technicians, and Scientists club (JETS). Coming from a girls’ school meant that Bolarinwa had to compete with boys from other schools. “I attended an all-girls school, and usually when we went for inter-school JETS club, the boys made it seem like girls were not intelligent enough, as if math and physics were created for boys alone or maybe they understood it more,” said Kemisola.
These incidents called for a mind shift and for Bolarinwa, she always believed in her abilities and equal opportunities.
After secondary school, Bolarinwa studied Electrical and Electronics Engineering at the University of Ado-Ekiti; thus, her self-driven innovations are primarily self-taught.
During this time, she became interested in robotic engineering despite the challenges involved. “There was a pattern for most women to give up in my engineering class when we started as freshmen, [the class] had 11 women, but there were only seven left before graduation,” Bolarinwa said.
Photo credit: wordsthatcount.org
The drive to create the bra that detects breast cancer…
In 2017, she lost one of her favourite aunts to breast cancer. Bolarinwa recalls seeing several women lying in pain while visiting her aunt at the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital. “That day, I committed myself to find a solution for the early detection of breast cancer,” Bolarinwa remembered. “I boldly walked up to the doctor to ask, ‘how can we prevent this cancer from spreading?’”
“Watching the women broke my heart, especially the young girls; the pain, helplessness, and resignation were too much for me. We all need to stop this disease that is causing so much suffering, not just for the sick, but all those around them, caregivers and even doctors,” Bolarinwa says.
During the conversation with the doctor, Kemisola learned that 9 out of 10 women survive breast cancer with early detection. At that point, she realised she had found her next challenge. “I am doing this for women, and for me too. We must check the breast regularly since early detection is the solution; we need to make cancer screening accessible,” she said.
Photo credit: Venturesafrica.com
The steps taken to create the bra for early detection of breast cancer…
It is estimated that in Africa, there are 2.3 million women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, the world’s most prevalent cancer.
In 2019, Bolarinwa teamed up with a firmware expert, an IT expert, an embedding hardware expert, an AI expert, a software developer, and an oncologist. Together, they embarked on a journey to find a solution to the late detection of breast cancer.
In 2021, Kemisola and her team came up with a working prototype of a smart bra which has sensors to scan the breast for abnormalities
Inside the smart bra are seven sensors strategically placed across each bra cup, connected via cables to a USB output. The USB output connects the bra to a computer or mobile app, where software accesses the data and scans for anomalies. A specialist can then interpret these readings. This bra is still a prototype, with about 87 per cent accuracy, according to Bolarinwa.
“From the 15 women we have tested, three came out with abnormalities which we referred to the hospital for proper diagnosis,” she said.
Bolarinwa is also clear that the smart bra is not meant to replace mammograms but rather help those who cannot easily access mammograms or get them done regularly.
Bolarinwa has raised about 1 million US dollars in grants and is looking to expand the team. She is fundraising, focusing on social funders and angel investors.
Bolarinwa has other inventions….
The smart bra is not Bolarinwa’s only innovation; the robotics engineer created and sells smart security necklaces that use GPS to track family members and alert families when the wearer feels they are in danger.
She then converted it to smartwatches so it would be gender-inclusive. It can send pictures of the environment where family members are in case of danger since the device has a panic button.
Bolarinwa is a motivation….
Bolarinwa is also an advocate for girls and works to bridge the gender gap by encouraging girls and women to seek STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) – based education and employment opportunities.
She always says that she is a reference point for women around the world. ‘Look at me, look at where I am today, don’t let anyone talk you down because of your gender, lack of funds, or that a woman was created to go to school and eventually get married; that is the end,” the robotic scientist said in an interview.