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Health care issues tackled at Weill Cornell Hackathon

For Suniyya Amna Waraich, developing new therapies for stroke patients is personal: A close relative was at a family gathering when he had a stroke. Fortunately, the doctors in her family were able to diagnose it early, she said, and he has recovered well as a result.

MasquerAID team members, from left: Elizabeth Horch, Ning Ma, Zijun Zhao and Qi Zheng.

“But even in his case … the weight of constant wariness and anticipation of another stroke is impossible to shake,” said Waraich, a first-year doctoral student in neuroscience at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences. “I understand firsthand the value of an early-detection system.”

As a participant in the third annual NYC Health Hackathon, Feb. 8-10 at Weill Cornell Medicine, Waraich and a team of students and faculty created such a system: a mobile app for early detection of stroke in real time. Their innovation, named DESTROKE, won the award for Most Impactful Hack.

The Most Innovative Hack award went to mPOD (mobile post-op device), a temporary, implantable, infection-detection sensor that alerts clinicians when E. coli, staph and other pathogens collect at wound sites, allowing early intervention before symptoms surface. Team mPOD included members from Cornell’s Ithaca campus, Harvard University and CUNY Queens College.

Most Technical Hack went to Blue Peace, a mobile app focused on alleviating panic attacks through calming techniques and by notifying family members and caregivers. Team Blue Peace included Jack O’Hara, a student in the Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership program at Weill Cornell Medicine and the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, and Cornell Tech alumnus Won Young Choi, M.Eng. ’10, as well as members from Stevens Institute and the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command.

The event, organized by Dr. Julianne Imperato-McGinley, principal investigator of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC), was a first-time collaboration between the institution and Entrepreneurship at Cornell. It brought together nearly 200 students and faculty members from Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell’s Ithaca campus, and several local and national academic institutions to develop high-tech health care innovations.

“The event brought together people from different backgrounds and perspectives to create something new,” said Imperato-McGinley, “where anyone from anywhere has value to offer and feels included.”

The hackathon began the evening of Feb. 8, during which participants formed into 19 teams to develop their projects. Among the innovations: an app to help consumers make better food choices while grocery shopping; peer-support platforms to aid young people suffering from depression and anorexia; and a medication-reconciliation app for helping patients and their caregivers keep track of medications.

Two days later, the teams demonstrated their prototypes to judges, who selected 10 teams to move on to the final round.

The top three teams each received a $1,500 cash prize. All teams received feedback from mentors – including surgeons, data scientists, entrepreneurs and software developers – and had access to tech talks, pitch workshops, hardware, 3D printers and virtual reality headsets.

“We hope that, above all, participants took away from the event friendships and bonds, along with the chance to explore, take risks, learn from one another and meet people they wouldn’t otherwise,” said My Linh H. Nguyen-Novotnyassistant director of programmatic development at CTSC, who managed the event’s planning and day-to-day activities in partnership with Ami Stuart, tech events manager at Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

Honorable mention went to MasquerAID, a machine-washable, biodegradable air filtration mask aimed at high-pollution countries and the United States. Its team members included Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences doctoral students Elizabeth Horch and Zijun Zhao.

The DESTROKE app uses facial, motion, speech and language recognition technologies – based on validated best practices from the National Institutes of Health’s stroke scale – to help determine if a person has suffered a stroke. For example, a camera can capture changes in facial symmetry, including drooping of the mouth on one side, a symptom of stroke. The app allows immediate communication of test results to family contacts and emergency medical services.

The prize money will enable the DESTROKE team – which includes Yubin Xie, Tomer Yaron and Dmitrii Meleshko, all doctoral students at the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences – to complete the app and launch it. The team will also seek to collaborate with nearby academic medical institutions to identify potential users.

Event sponsors included Weill Cornell Medicine’s BioVenture eLab, Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures, Johnson & Johnson, Modernizing Medicine and IBM Developer, in collaboration with Tech-in-Medicine Weill Cornell, Cornell Computing and Information Science, Cornell Engineering, NewYork-Presbyterian Innovation Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Columbia University Data Science Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and MIT Hacking Medicine.

Mark Gaige is a freelance writer for Weill Cornell Medicine.

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Jennifer Gundersen