Dotplot wins funding to explore role of breast cancer self-check in primary care


Dotplot in use

New grants awarded as Dotplot is named New Startup of the Year by the world’s largest cancer research charity, Cancer Research UK.

Dotplot, a startup founded by two graduates in Innovation Design Engineering from Imperial and the Royal College of Art, has won a grant to investigate how its system for breast cancer self-checks can support the work of GPs and other healthcare professionals.

We will be exploring whether the breast self-check reports that Dotplot generates can be of use to GPs and, if so, what kind of information they require from us. Debra Babalola Dotplot

“We will be exploring whether the breast self-check reports that Dotplot generates can be of use to GPs and, if so, what kind of information they require from us. For example, what would help speed up referral processes, or help GPs make more informed decisions about who to refer,” explains Debra Babalola, who co-founded Dotplot with Shefali Bohra in 2022.

Dotplot’s system is designed to make regular breast self-checks easier to perform. It consists of a simple handheld device that measures breast tissue density, plus a paired smartphone app that guides users through monthly self-checks and alerts them to changes outside normal expectations.

The system does not diagnose breast cancer, but flags up concerning changes relative to previous self-checks carried out by the user. These can then be followed up by healthcare professionals.

Connecting with the NHS

The funding for the NHS study comes from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR). “The grant is focused on how we can bring the product into the NHS pathway, and how we can develop it specifically for patient benefit,” says Ms Babalola, Dotplot's Chief Operating Officer.

This will also help Dotplot design its first clinical trial, which is expected to take place in 2025. “We are still some way from establishing how well we can differentiate between cysts, tumours or other complications,” says Ms Bohra, Dotplot's Chief Executive. “Once we understand from GPs what information is beneficial for them, we will know what level of classification we need to aim for, and that will help us design the clinical trial.”

Dotplot's deviceMeanwhile, the NIHR-funded work will help Dotplot bring its product closer to the market, by ensuring that it meets the standards expected by the NHS. “This will also make it easier for us to find further investment, because we will have de-risked so much of our product development already,” says Ms Babalola.

The NIHR funding is complemented by a further grant from Innovate UK, awarded earlier this year. “This Unlocking Potential Award will support development of the app and testing with a number of users,” says Ms Babalola.

New Startup of the Year

Dotplot’s potential was recognised in March when it was named New Startup of the Year by Cancer Research Horizons, the innovation arm of the charity Cancer Research UK. Six startups were shortlisted for the award, which recognises the potential of a great business to develop ground-breaking technology with the promise of delivering growth and impact in the cancer sector.

“It’s such a privilege to be recognised among these people,” says Ms Babalola. “Some of these startups are much further ahead than we are, but we are inspired by their journeys and the impact all of us are making within the cancer research space.”

Debra Babalola and Shefali Bohra of Dotplot
Debra Babalola (left) and Shefali Bohra of Dotplot receive the prize for New Startup of the Year at the Cancer Research Horizons Innovation and Entrepreneurship Awards.

The award is particularly important to Dotplot because it is a vote of confidence from the cancer research community. “Both of us come from product design rather than medical backgrounds, so this will definitely boost our credibility when we go and speak to doctors, and with potential investors,” says Ms Bohra.

It also opens the way for conversations with Cancer Research UK on possible future collaborations, for example on clinical support, and with Cancer Research Horizons on its support for pre-seed and seed companies. “That’s an ecosystem we would like to work with in future,” she adds.

Part of the Imperial ecosystem

The Dotplot founders are alumni of the Venture Catalyst Challenge (VCC), Imperial’s flagship entrepreneurial programme, winning its top prize in 2022. And they continue to participate in Imperial’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. “We love being involved with the Enterprise Lab,” said Ms Babalola. “It has been crucial in our development, so we are always willing help in any way that we can.”

Attending the recent final of the VCC was as stimulating as ever. “You end up meeting so many other founders, including other members of our VCC cohort, and it’s really inspiring to see where they have reached and what they are doing next,” says Ms Bohra.

Debra Babalola and Shefali Bohra of Dotplot
The Dotplot team with the Venture Catalyst Challenge trophy in 2022.

The company has also been working with the Imperial College Business School, taking advantage of its consulting programme on innovation, entrepreneurship and management. “We worked with five Master’s students on the best route-to-market strategy for Dotplot,” Ms Bohra explains. “It was just for one month, but had a really good output. Now we are hoping to be included as a summer project for students with the Business School.”

Meanwhile, the founders will be sharing their own experience as part of the Unlocking Potential Award. “We will spend five days within the project engaging with young people, sharing our work and experience, and trying to encourage them to get into innovation as well,” says Ms Babalola. “The idea is to show them that is this is not a career path that is just for a specific group of people, but something they can explore as well.”


Ian Mundell

Ian Mundell


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