Laura Hinson, Madeline Lee, Sophia Triantis, and Valerie Zawicki

Ithemba is an all-female team of biomedical engineering students from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) who share a passion for women’s health and are helping to bring hope to women with breast cancer. Ithemba, in fact, translates to “hope” in Zulu. After traveling to such places as South Africa, Peru, and Guyana, team members gained a first-hand understanding about the lack of safe, early, and accurate diagnoses of breast cancer in lower resource settings, compared with the United States. To address this problem, the team created a reusable, low-cost, contamination-free breast biopsy device to expand breast cancer diagnostic capability. This inventive work has earned Ithemba the 2019 $10,000 “Cure it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.

Laura Hinson is from Houston, TX and works on prototype development for the team, implementing new design iterations using CAD software. The sophomore applies the skills she has cultivated as a research assistant to further the work that she is now doing in the global health field. Her past experiences demonstrate her commitment to Ithemba’s mission, notably her time spent as a founding member, publicist, events planner, and eventually president of Girls Learn International, a women’s health and education advocacy club at her high school. Her work with Girls Learn International fueled her passion for helping women in developing nations, and led her to become a member of Ithemba.

Madeline Lee, also a sophomore, grew up in Austin, TX and is focusing her biomedical engineering degree on instrumentation. Madeline is responsible for testing and designing Ithemba’s prototypes to ensure functionality, quality, and usability. After graduation Madeline hopes to continue to work on engineering devices, particularly those that improve independence for the disabled community. She is passionate about helping people with physical and cognitive disabilities. Madeline has volunteered extensively in her community with people who have disabilities and even coordinates and leads events to raise awareness and knowledge of how to respectfully interact with the disabled community. These experiences have helped Madeline develop her public speaking and communication skills.

Sophia Triantis is also a sophomore and is from Chevy Chase, MD. She is focusing her degree on biomedical instrumentation and helps the team develop business plans and partnerships, drawing on her past experience with a startup. Sophia strives to make a positive impact in the world through the intersection of public health and engineering, and she is already on her way, having spent hundreds of hours volunteering. She also served as a mentor to incoming JHU students, implementing her problem-solving and leadership skills.

Valerie Zawicki, as with others on the team, has been personally affected by breast cancer, as her mother fought the disease and thankfully survived when Valerie was only five years old. Valerie grew up in Long Beach, CA, and as a current junior, she is the team leader and focuses on device design and the manufacturing process for Ithemba’s device. She also helps to facilitate clear communication among team members and guides the team’s business and implementation strategies. Valerie exemplifies the team’s commitment to community engagement, having worked with children at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) camps, and volunteering at the Hlokomela Women’s Clinic in South Africa, where she developed a patient data and appointment system to improve organization.


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