April 22, 2024

Program to help kids increases access to high-tech diagnostics in remote locations

UCalgary researcher starts program in the Caribbean, plans to expand globally to address disparities in care
A woman administers a test to a young boy
Dr. Paula Robertson, a paediatrician in Trinidad, administers EEG with young patient. Courtesy Morris Scantlebury

Dr. Morris Scantlebury, MD, is typing on his computer on a busy Tuesday morning when his phone rings. On the other end, a neurosurgeon — a colleague in Barbados — has a problem. There’s a child on the island of Dominica, hundreds of kilometres away, who has epilepsy and desperately needs an EEG to further the diagnosis. The doctor says the child will be in Barbados in a month or two and could undergo the testing then, and he has called Scantlebury for advice.

The challenge faced by the Caribbean doctor is familiar to Scantlebury. Insufficient access to necessary equipment and specialized technology, coupled with the scarcity of trained individuals to conduct the required tests, remains a persistent issue in developing countries worldwide.

Scantlebury happily tells his colleague the equipment and expertise are now available on the young patient’s home island. How does a medical practitioner in Calgary know this? Because Scantlebury’s company, Nyota Tano Diagnostics, has been working to increase training for and access to advanced health-care technologies in remote and resource-limited settings throughout the Caribbean.

A man in a bow tie

Morris Scantlebury

“Much of the technology we are bringing to the bedside is portable, like EEG (electroencephalogram) machines for instance,” he says. “And as we see new technology developed, we consider introducing that too.”

Scantlebury, a paediatric neurologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of Paediatrics and Clinical Neurosciences at the Cumming School of Medicine and member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, knows the challenges of delivering critical medical care in developing countries. 

He earned his medical degree in Barbados, specializing in childhood epilepsy. Scantlebury spends his vacations in the Caribbean as a visiting doctor and advocates for increased support to advance medical capabilities in the region.

Scantlebury created and funded Nyota Tano Diagnostics in 2021. Its specialized equipment and training programs have been successfully introduced on four islands to date. Scantlebury has expanded access to families through an innovative remote health-care model: sometimes, the EEG takes place where the patient is, and the analyst interprets the findings from elsewhere.

With a strategic vision to extend this initiative beyond the Caribbean, Scantlebury is working with the Precision Health Program, a recently established graduate program at the University of Calgary.

“When I travel around the world I see all kinds of new technologies, but for most companies, the focus is on Europe or North America,” says Scantlebury.  He explains the focus is often on those with more resources to purchase equipment: “My job is to try to turn them towards underserved countries.”

Scantlebury recognizes that the rapid expansion of Nyota Tano Diagnostics underscores the need for this specialized service and for the significant role he can play in assisting children and their families globally to have access to diagnoses and treatments for childhood epilepsy, irrespective of financial circumstances.  

“I see a future where all nations have easy access to advanced health-care technologies,” he says.

Child Health and Wellness
The University of Calgary is driving science and innovation to transform the health and well-being of children, youth and families. Led by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, top scientists across the campus are partnering with Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and our community to create a better future for children through research.

One Child Every Child
A Canada-first research and translation initiative funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, with a vision for all Canadian children to be the healthiest, most empowered and thriving in the world. Led by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the University of CalgaryOne Child Every Child brings together Indigenous partners, Canada’s child health research institutes, equity-deserving communities, local and national stakeholders as well as global collaborators to dramatically improve the lives of children across Canada and beyond.

Graduate Program in Precision Health (PHP)
UCalgary’s PHP program offers four specializations delivered in a flexible, part-time, blended-online format. Applications are being accepted now for the fall 2024 intake. The deadline to apply is May 31, 2024.

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