Monday, March 7, 2016

Engineering World Health Hosts HealthHack 2016

The UC San Diego chapter of Engineering World Health held its second annual HealthHack February 27-28, garnering over 110 students of varied engineering and health science majors to produce a prototype or design to solve a serious global health problem.

The teams, comprised of up to four people, were given the following challenge: “To diagnose, limit, prevent, or treat a mental condition and its associated problems. Empower a patient to curb dependence on inaccessible resources, specifically in a low-resource setting.”

Neel Parekh, President Project Team for EWH, described what generated the prompt for HealthHack was what he sees as a significant need.

“I guess the simple answer is that mental health solutions are just not represented well in the engineering community,” Parekh said. “Engineers often focus on infectious and chronic diseases, but tend to give up when it comes to mental health. I also researched the [statistics] and felt bad myself for kind of not contributing to that realm enough, and [I] decided to pursue it further until I realized that there could be some really interesting engineering solutions to these mental health issues.”

According to the World Health Organization, countries with low and lower middle incomes carry almost three-quarters of neuropsychiatric disorders worldwide. Almost one-third of countries do not have a defined budget for mental health. Even more so, roughly 21 percent of countries that do have specific mental health budgets provide less than 1 percent of their total health budget on mental health.

The competition consisted of 27 hours of hacking, with the aid of graduate student, faculty, and industry mentors. Additionally, all participants had Arduinos and access to the MAE Design Studio at their disposal, in addition to workshops on 3D Printing and Hardware. Teams had to submit a written proposal, outlining the current need for the prototype or device, explanation of the solution, process for implementation, and any limitations and potential collaborations.

The first round of judging was a project expo, in which the 23 teams that submitted final proposals delivered 3-minute pitches to judges from academia and industry. Six finalists were selected for the last round. After a keynote speech from Illumina representative Adrian Fawcett, each team gave an 8-minute presentation before a panel of judges, including representatives from ResMed, the von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center and UC San Diego. 

Prototypes and designs included:
  • Hidden watch for anxiety and epilepsy
  • Wearable headband to aid narcolepsy patients 
  • Mobile game for individuals affected by autism spectrum disorder
  • Whole cell biosensor for a holistic approach to depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and ADHD
  • Stuffed animals to comfort those suffering from depression 
  • Mobile app that tracks diet and physical health to improve awareness and self-diagnosis of depression, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive and bipolar disorders
  • Aid for refugees suffering from PTSD
  • Focus on maternal stress and cortisol levels 
  • Isolation prevention for the mentally distressed  
  • Game that improves independence for the depressed, without having the affected realize the game is for treatment
  • Application of radio frequency to provide diagnostic information for PTSD patients 
  • Aid for the chronically homeless affected by mental and behavioral disorders
  • Game for young adults suffering from depression 


Third Place: PEN
Rodolfo Flores, Applied Mathematics, ‘18
Alfredo Lucas, Bioengineering: Bioengineering ‘18
Gustavo Umbelino, Computer Science, ’18

Focused on ADHD, in particular students who easily fall under in-class distractions, the team developed a Stimulating Pen that sends constant reminders to the users through vibrations and visual cues. The device also has a component for anxiety relief that allows the user to continuously press the button on the pen’s top, similarly to clicking a pen nonstop. The incidence of ADHD is higher amongst impoverished individuals, correlating income with the disease’s prevalence.

Second Place: Calm Cap
Neha Chhugani, Bioengineering: Biosystems, ‘19
Anokhi Saklecha, Biochemistry and Cell Biology, ‘19
Renu Singh, Bioengineering: Bioinformatics, ‘18
Vaish Sridharan, Bioengineering: Bioengineering, ‘19

These four girls were awarded $500 in prize money for their $5 wearable head device that alleviates anxiety, the most prevalent neuropsychiatric disorder worldwide. The device utilizes acupressure beads at acupressure points GV 24.5 and GV 20, cerebral regions that the International Anesethesia Research Study reports to correlate with stress relief. In addition, the device includes a battery-operated sound chip that plays calming music or meditation instructions and a microprocessor that records frequencies and durations of panic attacks. Calm Cap is worn at patient’s discretions, such that they may put on the device when they feel a panic attack approaching, and they may do so without any additional aid.

First Place: Amniotic Wrap
Niranjanaa Jeeva, Bioengineering: Bioengineering, ‘19
Ella Stimson, Bioengineering: Bioengineering, ‘19
Julie Yip, Bioengineering: Biotechnology, ’18
With the prize money of $1000, the team looks forward to collaborating with the von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center to further develop their prototype. The team was focused on Postpartum Depression, a disorder that affects 15 percent of mothers after giving birth, and this condition affects almost twice as many women in underdeveloped countries in comparison to industrialized countries.

One of the symptoms of PPD is difficulty bonding with the infant, thus, the team created a blanket that connects mother to child. The baby has a small sock with Lilypad Arduinos and infrared sensors, which detect the baby’s pulse and therefore its heart rate. This heart rate is sent via Bluetooth the mother’s blanket, which has Lilypad Arduinos and vibrational motors that mimic the baby’s heart beat. A study at the Eindhoven University of Technology revealed that biosignals of an individual’s heart beat can form an intimate connection and interpersonal distance with another person. In addition, the changes in the infant’s heart rate will be analyzed to gently awaken and notify the mother, before hearing the cries of her child. Estimated at $12 in cost, the design strengthens the mother-infant bond and has potential to relieve other symptoms of PPD, allowing the mother to independently improve her health in the comfort of her home.

First year Bioengineering student Niranjanaa Jeeva expressed her surprise, noting her attendance was derived in her hope to develop more engineering skills, and she noted how competing was a humbling experience.

“HealthHack was definitely an exciting experience!” Jeeva told the Jacobs School. “I went into it hoping to learn a few engineering skills, maybe create a viable idea to present at the end of the weekend. As a first year, I believed that there was really no way that I could win. Luckily, I was part of a great team. Together, we worked hard through many frustrating hours to come up with our idea and had a great time doing it. Maybe it was because I was so exhausted by the end of the second day, but I was so surprised when we won. All the other teams who competed had such amazing ideas. I am so grateful for the chance to have met and competed with such creative and innovative people!”

Ella Stimson, also a first year Bioengineering student of Amniotic Wrap, described how the event has encouraged her to further pursue engineering for improved quality of life and global health.

“Initially, I joined for the experience and not so much for the competition itself,” Stimson said. “This mindset continued until our group found a topic and design idea that all of us were passionate about,” Stimson said. “I’m thrilled that our enthusiasm was reflected in our product and supported by others. This competition made me realize that there are so many areas of our world’s health that is lacking resources and help and it amazes me that just 24 hours of designing and hacking can make an impact in that - whether it’s our group or any of the other groups’ idea. Now, I really want to make sure that our idea gets out there in the world and makes some kind of difference.”

As for the future of HealthHack competition, Parekh said to the Jacobs School, “I just want the idea that engineers can contribute to global health to continue to prosper and…have the UCSD community of engineering, including professors, entrepreneurship, and administration, to understand that they should be conducive to students that can come up with really amazing things.”

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