Dec. 10, 2018

Science Fiction Or Science Fact? Innovation Is Closer Than You Think

Science Fiction Or Science Fact? Innovation Is Closer Than You Think

Model brains and wombs, handheld wireless otoscopes, apps designed to track a child’s post-operative care, watches to track ICU patients’ vitals and wearable naproxen injection kits. All of these devices sound like something out of a futuristic science fiction movie. The truth is each of these devices is a real working prototype, designed and built by students here at the University of Calgary in this year’s Innovation for Health (I4H) Hackathon.

This competition is unprecedented in that it challenges students to find real world solutions to healthcare problems put forward by experts (veterinarians and medical professionals). Students choose the challenge they would like to work on and form multidisciplinary teams. Students (both graduate and undergraduate) with vastly differing backgrounds from engineering, medicine and business are all eligible to compete and join. The teams are then given six weeks to plan and design their solutions in collaboration with their particular expert. Then the hard work really begins, they are given just three days to build a working prototype. Following this three day sprint, in addition to a working prototype, the students need to give a one minute pitch and then convince judges that their ideas are feasible solutions to the particular problem. A total of 19 teams competed for $20 000 in awards in this year’s competition. This year’s theme focused on diagnostics and monitoring with subcategories for wearables, devices, veterinary medicine, mobile apps, and medical simulators. With about 150 students competing, it is clear that there is interest and motivation from students to develop products and potentially businesses that could boost the healthcare and biotechnology sectors here in Calgary.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to this year’s Demo Day where I got to chat to students about their prototypes and their experiences at I4H. “Prototyping is great and involved compromise”. This was a comment made by Lane Harper, a Biomedical Engineering Masters student, who worked on a skull simulator which was designed to give surgeons the opportunity to practice complex neurosurgery before cutting into a patient. Amy Chen, an undergraduate Health Sciences student and a member of the same team, discussed how I4H was a unique experience for an undergraduate student. It exposed her to students with differing interests and degrees all of whom had distinct ways of thinking. “Collaboration is key” was Ms Chen’s main takeaway. There was a general consensus among most of the students I spoke to, they were all looking forward to getting some much needed sleep once the competition was over.

There were five different prizes on offer this year and they included:

The People’s Choice Award ($1000 in-kind services)

Salvida Technologies – Fentanyl overdose related deaths have been on the rise in recent years in Canada and has been classified a public health emergency. Fortunately, Naloxone is an effective antidote but needs to be administered to the patient as quickly as possible. This team developed a wearable device to track a person’s vitals to determine when a fentanyl overdose was occurring, this would then trigger an automatic injector to administer a life-saving naloxone dose to the wearer. In addition to the treatment the device is also designed to notify medical personal.

Team Members - Nilesh Sharma, Andrei Nastase, Dion Kelly, Kristina Komarek, Jian Liao, Jamie Martinez, Alexander Cobban.

Champion- Fernando Mejia

Best Innovation ($ 4000 in-kind services)

MedCheck- Side effects of medications can be severe and often medical professionals are too busy to adequately follow up with patients when they start taking new medications. This team designed a text based chat bot that will automatically follow up with patients on new medications, ensuring they are monitored effectively.

Team Members-Quinn Bischoff, Calvin Tseng, Leon Ngai, Steven Sun, Bakht Kahloon

Champion- Jantz Selk

Best Translation ($ 4000 in-kind services)

OTODX- Access to doctors particularly ear, nose and throat specialists is limited in various parts of the world, especially in developing countries. This team developed a low cost, wireless, handheld otoscope which is capable of capturing images and sending these images to a specialist, allowing for quick and accurate diagnosis in remote locations.

Team Members- Angela Kim, Jonas Teixeira, Jungmin Park, Linhui Yu, Zijin Huang, Rahul Arora

Champion- Devon Livingstone

Best Collaboration ($ 4000 in-kind services)

Horse SeeEquine dental pathologies can be costly and challenging to diagnose. This team developed a device that uses advanced cameras to capture real time images of a horses teeth. This is designed to aid the in diagnosis of dental issues in remote rural settings

Team Members- David Roszko, Jessica Wood, Stephanie Pranke, Persephone Greco-Otto, Fernando Guardado, Austyn Matheson, Bryce Besler

Champion - Darlene Donszelmann

Best Overall ($7,000 + in-kind services)

Emerg Access- Access to emergency services can often be problematic and patients are required to wait for treatment for extended periods of time. This is a threat to the patient’s well-being and has broader implications for the general public. This team designed a website and algorithm to help emergency department managers allocate resources. Their dashboard provides real-time information on clinical and diagnostic blocks that are causing backlogs. This will ultimately help managers and physicians decided where to allocate their resources in the most effective manner. 

Team MembersAbdullah Sarhan, Sonia Martins, Mariam Keshavjee and Julia St. Amand

Champion- Eddy Lang

I met with Emerg Access and this humble group of students was eager to share their insights about I4H. They were mainly focused improving their technology and making a meaningful contribution to the healthcare system.

Emerg Access is a team of just four students with a diverse skill set. The members of the team are

Sonia Martins, an undergraduate student in Biomedical Sciences with a major in Management in Society. Abdullah Sarhan, a PhD student in Computer Science.  Mariam Keshavjee who has an undergraduate degree in Economics with a minor in Women Studies and finally Julia St Amand, an undergraduate in Kinesiology and Business Specialization in Operations Management.

The team described their website and how their technology can help departmental managers direct patient flows within the hospital and manage resources most efficiently with the real-time data on their dashboard displays.  Abdullah pointed out that the website is compatible with almost any device which makes it really user friendly. The team also mentioned how they field tested their design at the Foothills Medical Centre with the help of their mentor Dr. Eddy Lang, Department Head and a Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine. They constantly co-ordinated with stakeholders such as nurses, consultants, data analysts and administrators ensuring their product was tailored to the needs of the community. Presently, the dashboard is designed with managers and clinicians in mind but the team already has plans to expand on this. They would like to grow their user interface so that it would be customized for different stakeholders. Each dashboard would show different datasets that are the most relevant to any given position and all the data would be in real-time. Clearly the team doesn’t want to lose momentum and has a clear idea of how they are going to move their idea forward. Now that they have the funding to do this, they are more determined and dedicated than ever to get their idea off the ground.

Each member on the team found differing aspects of I4H to be challenging. For Abdullah finding the best solution to their challenge was the hardest part and how best to differentiate themselves from other solutions on the market. Sonia and Mariam found the iterative process of perfecting their algorithm to be quite difficult. Knowing which datasets, thresholds and measurements would be of the most value was an obstacle they had to overcome. While Julia mentioned that perfecting her one minute pitch was perhaps the most daunting task. The best experiences seemed to be shared by everyone on the team as they all mentioned that working together with people who all had the same level of commitment and enthusiasm for the project was an incredible experience. That and the foosball they played together whilst taking breaks during the hackathon. Julia is apparently the team’s current foosball champion.

The biggest impact that I4H has had on them was the ability to build something tangible to help improve the healthcare system. They never thought they would win but their goal was just to complete their project to help solve a problem. “We diagnose the problem so you can focus on diagnosing the patient” is now their new tagline according to Julia.

The advice this team had for students thinking about joining I4H next year was simply, give it a shot! At least go to the pitch evening and find out what the challenges are. Crucially, sign up for challenges that you are passionate about and not the ones you think will win. Having a team that are all passionate about solving the same problem makes the biggest difference.

I4H is tapping into Calgary’s community of innovative thinkers and it is gives them a platform to launch new ideas and make them tangible was also discussed by the team. They all agreed that businesses can form and develop from competition such as I4H, which may help create jobs and develop the healthcare sector.  

Perhaps the high tech devices seen in science fiction movies are closer than we think. These futuristic concepts which may have seemed implausible are now prototypes created in an astonishingly short period of time. Imagine what corporate and government funding of these ideas could accomplish in the near future. I4H is definitely creating an environment where students can test and prototype anything they can think up turning science fiction into science fact.