I, along with 4 other RPI students, were privileged to be given the amazing opportunity of attending the 3rd annual Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health Hackathon between the 19th & 21st October 2018. The focus of this year hackathon is to provide healthcare solutions to rare diseases. 15 groups emerged and had the chance to come up with ways to improve the lives of people with rare diseases.
We arrived at New York city on Friday evening for the 48 hours competition, all the participants gathered in the auditorium where we listened to the opening remarks and different doctors talks about the rare diseases they treated and why it is important to study them. After the talks we broke out for dinner, which gave us the opportunity to interact with other participants, see what they were interested in and form groups.
As soon as we broke out for dinner, I spoke to some students and found the group I wanted to join. Since it was an interdisciplinary competition, we had a diverse group of students including 3 computer engineers from Harvey Mudd college, a designer from Washington D.C, A technician from mount Sinai, a nuclear engineer from RPI and myself, a biologist from RPI.
My group focused on west syndrome which is a rare disease observed in infants, it symptoms consist of sudden infantile spasms, abnormal brain wave patterns and mental retardation. Our aspiration was to create a method of early detection of this disease, so we decided to create a user friendly, at home EEG machine for faster diagnosis and easier monitoring. We created an EEG machine integrated into a beanie that is easy for kids to wear. We later expanded into making a kit called “west wave” that contains a night camera, an EEG beanie and an arm band (called flex band) that detects muscle spasms. The idea was that the doctor will be able to access the information detected by the kit in real time to monitor the EEG results and the muscle spasms, helping the doctor diagnose the disease faster and more accurately. Also, parents could also monitor the child from another room and get alerts on their phone if something is wrong with the child.
To ensure the practicality of our project, we spoke to a neurologist who gave us some pointers on improving out designs. We all worked together on Saturday and Sunday morning to create realistic prototypes to present to the judges.
On Sunday, each group presented their project to a group of judges and only three finalists groups were chosen. The finalist groups got a $2,500 prize money and an opportunity to present their idea to a panel of entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, my group wasn’t one of the finalists. The finalists created eye tracking technology, diet tracking app and an improved handicap walker.
Some of the challenges we faced were brainstorming ways to make our beanie and armband wireless and comfortable enough for a child to sleep in, getting some of our hardware to work within our limited time and with our limited resources. The most difficult task was condensing all the work we had done into a 3 minutes pitch to present to the judges.
Although our group didn’t win, we left with something more valuable than money. We learnt a lot of new things, enjoyed the experience of working with people from diverse field, made new friends and most importantly, realized how simple ideas can make a person’s life so much easier. The Hackathon was an enjoyable experience and if I have the opportunity to attend it again, I definitely will do.