Opioid-related overdoses killed more than 47,000 people in the US in 2017, the same year that opioids were responsible for about two-thirds of all drug-related deaths globally. The crisis darkens further as we understand that only 1 in 7 people with opioid abuse disorders receive the help they need.

Such an immense problem can feel so daunting it becomes overwhelming, but 13 year-old Gitanjali from Colorado was pushed to work towards a solution. This past year, Gitanjali built Epione, an AI-powered medical device designed for both physicians and their patients who struggle with opioid addiction. The tool helps diagnose opioid addiction at an early stage and monitor symptoms of addiction and abuse.

Epione is a portable device that allows users to test samples for the elevated presence of proteins, a signal indicating high amounts of opioids in the body. The more protein in a sample, the darker the sample becomes when analyzed. Gitanjali explains that then “the device takes a picture of the analyzed sample …the app cuts that picture down to a region of interest and compares it to a set of pre-calibrated images. It creates almost a spectrum of what a sample would look like without addiction and what a sample would like with addiction…Based on where [your sample falls on that spectrum] it can tell you if you’re addicted to prescription opioids.” Gitanjali’s work on Epione earned her a place as a Technovation Girls finalist in 2019.

Choosing to tackle opioid addiction

Gitanjali choose to focus on opioid addiction after observing the effects on her community – “there were so many teens getting into prescription opioids, and before anybody knew about it, it was too late to do anything about it … I wanted to come up with a way to diagnose prescription opioid addiction at an early stage so you can take action earlier.” Gitanjali named her tool Epione after the Greek goddess of soothing, care, and recovery – qualities embodied by Gitanjali’s hope for the powerful impact of earlier diagnosis and intervention.

The technical features of Epione and it’s specific focus impress us, but Gitanjali’s long-term vision and dedication – she readily acknowledges that her research will likely take another 2 years before the app is ready to bring to market – assure us that we will be hearing much more from her in years to come.

What seemingly impossible problem do you want to help solve? Where do you think you can use your innovation and imagination to bring light to a complicated problem? Where do you want to begin to make a change? Registration for Technovation Girls is still open – register today and start brainstorming (and building) a better world. Are you an adult? Girls like Gitanjali need your expertise, support, and encouragement as they wade into new areas of study and explore technology – become a mentor today and support a team of girls in your community (or across the world). Learn more and register.