They came. They saw. They hacked.
After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 Clinical and Translational Sciences Center (CTSC) Health Hackathon was back in person at the University’s Domenici Center for Health Sciences Education North Wing from New Mexico the weekend of March 25-27.
The CTSC Health Hackathon strives to drive healthcare innovation, encourage multidisciplinary collaboration, and foster creativity in a fun and competitive atmosphere.
Six teams participated in the event, which brought together people from diverse backgrounds – including students, educators, programmers, entrepreneurs, engineers, dental hygienists and doctors – to identify pressing challenges in healthcare and “hack” a solution in the form of innovative technology.
Participants formed teams on Friday evening around ideas presented by other “hackers”. They spent most of Saturday analyzing ideas and problems, brainstorming approaches, methods and solutions, as well as developing prototypes, business plans and their final version. shark tank– style pitch presentation. On Sunday, the teams pitched their ideas to a panel of judges, competing for the chance to apply for CTSC grants of up to $10,000 to help bring their ideas to life.
Three teams had the opportunity to pursue their idea, with concepts ranging from solving crises in UNM student housing and oral health to helping healthcare professionals embrace equity and inclusion in their practice.
A winning team developed an idea called NanoPOD, which uses nanotechnology to prevent oral disease by introducing nanoparticles into toothpaste and mouthwash. The iron oxide nanoparticles added to these products disrupt biofilms and kill harmful bacteria.
“Oral disease is a crisis,” said team leader Jennifer Carranza, a student in the master’s dental hygiene program. “Forty-seven percent of adults over the age of 30 have some form of periodontal disease, and this one is preventable.”
Other members are Adreanna Rael, an undergraduate student at the College of Population Health; Mia Baca, undergraduate student in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering; Shruti Gharde, a Ph.D. student in the Optical Sciences and Engineering program; Mark Reymatias, a Ph.D. student in the Nanosciences and Microsystems Engineering program; and Marek Osinski, professor emeritus in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Physics and Astronomy.
Another winning team tackled student health impacts resulting from the lack of accessible student accommodation. According to Youth.gov, homeless youth experience higher rates of chronic health conditions, trauma-related injuries, and nutritional issues. The mission of the Alternative Student Housing (ASH) app is to connect students in need of housing to affordable and available residences nearby. According to the team, 41% of UNM students experience a housing crisis at some point during their time at UNM.
Anthony Wallace said he was inspired to create this app after experiencing homelessness as a student in another state several years ago.
“It’s personal for me because as a student I had many scholarships, but I spent 11 months on the streets,” he said. “I now have housing security, but it took me many years. I wanted to make this app so it wouldn’t be someone else’s problem.
In addition to Wallace, the team members are Amelia Bierle (who was part of a winning Hackathon team in 2020), an MBA student at the Anderson School of Management; John Schwitz, local entrepreneur; Michael Millar, undergraduate student in the Department of Computer Science; Marlene Brown, CNM Educator in Photovoltaics and Mathematics; and Katrina Guinta, a local businesswoman specializing in social media marketing and management.
The third winning pitch, IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Anti-discrimination), was led by Ming-Li Wang, MD, UNM surgeon and associate professor, focused on creating a fun and engaging app for help healthcare professionals recognize the impacts of biases and microaggressions on patients and change behaviors in the workplace.
“There are documented cases of resident and patient abuse,” said team member and assistive technology professional Mary Thelander Hill. “What we hope to do is gamify training and provide friendly competition, while educating healthcare professionals on issues of inclusion, equity and diversity.”
Workplace discrimination is harmful, and research shows a strong correlation that microaggressions lead to high levels of depression and trauma among minorities. It is believed that more effective training in symptom and behavior recognition will benefit both patients and healthcare professionals, resulting in improved patient care.
Other members of the IDEA team are Joshua Benavidez, student; Tione Buranda, Ph.D., Department of Pathology; Michael McDonald, retired engineer; and Nancy Shane, UNM School of Medicine program evaluator.
Other ideas in the competition were developing an “electronic nose” to detect diseases like COVID-19, heart disease and cancer; an app to help nurture compassion in future healthcare providers; and an app that uses machine learning to detect indicators of inflammation, which is a major consequence of obesity and contributes to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Teams were judged on content, impact on health care, quality and clarity of their presentation, as well as marketability and feasibility of the idea or technology.
The event is led and organized by the Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences under their grant funded by the National Institutes of Health. The gold sponsors were the Office of Health Sciences Center Research, the UNM Vice President’s Office for Research, and the School of Engineering. Silver sponsors were ASCEND HUB, UNM Rainforest Innovations, Anderson School of Management, College of Pharmacy and College of Nursing.
The event was co-chaired by Eric Prossnitz, Ph.D., professor emeritus of internal medicine, and Robert G. Frank, Ph.D., professor at the College of Population Health. Christina Salas, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, helped organize the event and provided 3D printing assistance to teams interested in designing prototypes of their technology. Salas is also Special Assistant to the Dean of Engineering for Health Sciences Center Relations.
This year’s judges were Gregg Banninger, Ph.D., chief innovation officer for life sciences at UNM Rainforest Innovations; John Chavez, MBA, managing director of the New Mexico Start-Up Factory; Trish Lopez, Founder of Teeniors; Stacy Sacco, MBA, lecturer at the Anderson School of Management and director of the UNM Small Business Institute; and Mathis Shinnick, director of corporate engagement at UNM Rainforest Innovations.