On April 13-15 MIT Hacking Medicine held its annual event, the Grand Hack. This year’s hackathon had two tracks—the Connected Health Track and the Global Health track, with participants competing for a grand prize of 1,500 on each track. The Global Health track was focused on public health issues globally and was comprised of 10 teams, each situated at a table in the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge. The entire room was abuzz with teams excitedly brainstorming, mentors floating, and ideas exchanging freely.
Team ideas on the Global Health track included solutions for the opioid crisis, mental health issues (especially those affecting both young and elderly people in the US such as social isolation, depression, anxiety); prevention of relapses among schizophrenic patients, informed consent solutions for patients to take ownership of their medical decisions, delivery decision solutions for new mothers, lower cost medical devices in developing nations, and more.
A former director of the MIT Grand Hack, Khalil Ramadi explains that the goal of the hackathon is to provide an idea that’s as specific as possible. “It’s sort of like a funnel,” he explains. “Participants start off with very big picture ideas, but realistically, you need to pick a specific place, sub population, geography, time, an example of a medicine that is different, and then be able to implement your solution for that population to give real world impact.”
After choosing a track, participants viewed pitches the first day of the hack and then selected teams. They naturally gravitated toward ideas that compelled them and were encouraged by leaders of the hack to incorporate diverse people spanning different sections of the industry to gain a holistic perspective on their idea.
At every step of the way, the participants relied on expertise from mentors. One team member commented on the access to mentors: “ I have plenty of time to freely use expertise from different disciplines that I usually don’t get.” The mentors are industry leaders from all different sectors of technology and healthcare who have previously participated in hackathons. Their job was to respond to a queue of teams requesting insight and advice. Each mentor had a different skill set to help hone in on specific contexts.
Mentor Chris Sanders was most excited about the energy emanating from the teams. He says, “This is the 4th event I have come to, the first as a mentor. On stage pitching, there’s energy all over the place. Healthcare isn’t just a healthcare problem it’s a global problem, it’s a human problem, so I’m excited about bringing together all these people from different backgrounds and disciplines, which is what is really going to make these solutions come together.”
The Grand Prize in the Global Public Health track was awarded to Tech-to-Town, a team that proposed a solution for improving efficiency and reducing costs of the delivery and distribution of medical devices to third world countries. The runner-up prize was awarded to a low-cost colonoscope with disposable parts that could potentially replace traditionally expensive colonoscopy set-ups for low-resource communities, while the third place was awarded to an app that utilized chatbots to help patients with diabetes manage their insulin doses. The Best Cancer Hack Prize sponsored by the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT was awarded to a team that focused on raising awareness for cervical cancer screening through the generation of social networks in Saudi Arabia.
However, one of the directors of the event, Nancy Hung, an undergraduate student at MIT stresses that the goal of the event wasn’t to produce winners, but rather ideas that will continue past the event to reach impact. She says, “The global health track is something that is really close and dear to MIT hacking medicine. We are the sponsor for this track because we believe that global public health is something that we are all responsible for and that deserves more attention and resources. There’s no real standard universal platform that you can go to and submit challenges specifically for public health, so to have everyone in a room to tackle that problem is very special to us and hopefully to everyone else too.”
Header Image: Mentor Ed Amorim speaks with a team
Leah D’Sa is a Junior studying Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. She is currently a copyeditor for the school newspaper the Berkeley Beacon as well as Poetry Editor for the literary magazine the Emerson Review. She is looking to begin her career with health technology writing as she seeks to combine her lifelong love of writing and science.
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