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Making Women's Health Personal

March 16, 2018

Mercy Nyamewaa Asiedu is a 4th year Ph.D. candidate who is passionate about using technological innovations to bridge disparities in health between high-income countries and low and middle-income countries, particularly in her own country, Ghana.

 

Mercy was born and raised in Ghana. After high school, she became an awardee of the Zawadi Africa Education Fund, a program designed to provide scholarships to academically gifted girls from disadvantaged backgrounds of Africa to pursue higher education in the U.S.A, Uganda, Ghana, South Africa or Kenya. Thanks to this program, she received a full tuition, fees and expenses covered scholarship to further her education at the University of Rochester, New York. Growing up in Ghana, she had inadvertently become aware of the subpar health system especially in the area of women’s health. Many issues arise from limited hospital equipment or existing equipment that, though suitable for higher income countries like the United States, were difficult to utilize in primary and secondary health clinics in Ghana due to power shortages, lack of spare parts, lack of maintenance, to name just a few examples. As such, in college, she was very interested in choosing a major that would enable her to learn more about medical device development so she could contribute to developing culturally appropriate medical devices for resource-limited regions of the world.

In 2014, she received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester with a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in business. During her undergraduate career, she had the opportunity to conduct research in the Mayo Clinic on ultrasound technologies for thyroid cancer screening, where she developed a user interface to rapidly process and analyze comb-push ultrasound shear wave elasticity data. She also studied abroad in the University of Melbourne, Australia where she conducted research on gait analysis for osteoporosis in women. At Rochester, she spent her semesters partaking in on-campus research on biomechanics of the knee and its applications to osteoarthritis. As part of this research, she developed a method for efficient scaling of a generic tibia model to create custom, patient-specific models for applications in bone mechanics analysis and prosthetics. To gain further expertise in her area of interest, she applied and was accepted into the the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies at Duke University for a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.

Mercy graduated in Fall 2014 from the University of Rochester

Mercy joined GWHT as a graduate student in the Fall of 2014. In addition to her biomedical engineering doctorate, she is working towards a doctoral certificate in global health to better understand women’s health disparities and how she can use technology to solve them. One of her research projects is to focus on the development of a low-cost, speculum-free colposcope for cervical cancer screening. A related and important goal she is working on is the development of algorithms for computer-aided diagnoses of cervical pre-cancers, a capability that will be important for task shifting screening and diagnostics to the community level. Over 250,000 women die each year even though cervical cancer is highly preventable. Factors such as cost, limited resources, and fear of the speculum can prevent women from getting screening when the disease can be treated. The speculum free colposcope, referred to as the Calla, which Mercy developed with the help of then undergraduate student, Júlia Agudogo, has been tested on numerous volunteers and patients demonstrating that it can be used as a clinical and self-examination tool.  Mercy’s goal is to implement this technology in Ghana as part of her doctoral scholars’ fellowship that she recently was awarded from the Duke Global Health Institute. With this technology she hopes to increase access to screening and to use this as an educational tool to empower women to learn about their own reproductive anatomy.

Outside of research Mercy also founded the Duke African Graduate and Professional Students Association (DAGPSA) at Duke during her second year. This group provides a community for African graduate and professional students, visiting scholars and researchers at Duke. In addition the group also integrates with other like-minded organizations to foster sustainable cultural and social awareness, educational exchange and professional networks. Mercy also started the AFRIx symposium, an annual Triangle wide, TEDx inspired symposium that consists of a series of talks by African undergraduates, graduate students and professionals on topics related to the African continent. 

Mercy and undergraduate student, Júlia Agudogo, who work closely together on the speculum free colposcope