MedTech Hackathon 2020

Writer: Joanna Aloor
Editor: Karolay Lorenty

Let’s start with the basics: what is a hackathon? Most people think of a Silicon Valley-esque intensive coding competition calling programmers, developers and designers to collaborate over a software programming project. However, MedTech UCL hackathon weekend advocated entrepreneurship over software development. The focus was shifted to tackling pervasive problems in medicine and biomedicine with the aid of technology, attracting participants from a wide range of backgrounds: from doctors and scientists to graphic designers and engineers. 

This year the hackathon was partnered with the AI-based health services, Babylon Health, and talent investor, Entrepreneur First. Both companies saw employees attend the hackathon and provide 1-to-1 mentoring to guide each team in maximising the strengths of their product and help them overcome their short-comings. At the end of the weekend, the teams presented their pitches to a group of judges who picked their top three, awarded prizes and offered them the opportunity to take their idea beyond the hackathon. 

First place was awarded to the team behind Smart Sleep: an app developed to improve environmental factors and encourage a better night’s sleep. The app consisted of an AI-based sleep coach built to learn your personal circadian cycle, set reminders to prepare for bed accordingly and connect with smart home systems. Connecting to smart home devices would enable adjustments to your sleep environment. This includes reducing the thermostat temperature and dimming the lights of your home. With problems such as increased cardiovascular risk, reduced learning capacity and impaired immune system associated with sleep loss, targeting better sleep is a profitable market. 

The first runners up also targeted sleep, more specifically, Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). OSA interrupts breathing during sleep, consequently disrupting your sleep and resulting in important health consequences. Their app, OSApp, aimed to use existing technology in wearables (i.e. apple watch) for O2 monitoring to derive respiration rate based on the patient’s pulse width variability. Their app wishes to improve the diagnosis rate of OSA and measure patient responses to treatment.

Third place was awarded for an application devised for early diagnosis of sepsis, named Cura. Sepsis is an excessive immune response triggered by an infection causing inflammation throughout the entire body. Cura brought together healthcare wearables and sepsis diagnostic technology through a two phase process. Phase one focused on developing a deep neural network that could classify vitals in sepsis patients using wearable tech, while phase two was based around research, development and launch of sepsis biosensors.

The hackathon saw through many innovative ideas beyond the top three winners. Other teams used Natural Language Processing to automate note taking in GP consultations, trained neural networks to segment brain tumours from Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI) scans and developed lifestyle apps for personalised mental wellbeing.

Hackathons are a platform for problem-solvers and creative thinkers to combine their multidisciplinary skill-set and transform an idea from concept to reality. They have long been advantageous for the tech industry and now it is important they become equally supported for medical and biomedical innovations.

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