Hacking health: What can technology teach us about multiple sclerosis?

 

Technology … meet the health care industry.

Last fall we attended Canada’s first university-organized medical hackathon – a 36-hour event called Hack4Health at the University of Waterloo. We awarded $15,000 to the winning team to help them develop their idea for a tech-based wellness solution aimed at improving quality of life for people living with MS.

Team Tera Bio Solutions (TBS) claimed the prize. Its members, hailing from all over the globe and ranging from 19-21 years old, are Denez Zahra Bokhari, Muhammad Tahsin Sharif, Abhinav Grover, and Muhammad Inzamam Tahir.

The app they’ve been developing over the past 10 months works with the Microsoft Band, a health monitoring wristband that detects the user’s temperature and heart rate and allows them to track their symptoms. The app then logs the information for you to share with your healthcare team so they can better monitor the status of your health and recommend more tailored treatment options.

We spent the day with team TBS to learn more about the technology, their process, and their reasons for getting involved in the first place.

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How did you first decide to take part in Hack4Health?

Denez Zahra Bokhari: I’m a science student, and I want to pursue medicine and become a doctor. So when I saw a post on Facebook explaining that Hack4Health was focused on Alzheimer’s and MS, I thought, “Okay, that’s something I’m interested in.” So I signed up.

Mohammad Inzamam Tahir: I’m really interested in doing something related to bio-medical sciences, so I thought this was a great opportunity to bring my ideas and knowledge into that sphere.

Abinav Grover: It’s really an honour to be given the chance to work towards achieving solutions for a disease that Canada has been fighting for years.

Mohammad Tahsin Sharif: We want to provide medical professionals with effective tools to make further progress in the field of MS.

What are your goals for this new technology? What do you hope the app will do?

DB: When we first entered the competition, we wondered, “Do they expect us to find a cure this disease?” When we actually started talking to people living with MS about what they wanted, it was things like tracking diet, medicine and physical activity. So we focused our device on those things. We’re trying to create something that will improve quality of life for people living with MS.

MT: Because it’s a wristband, it’s with you all the time. So when you’re alone the band connects you back to your support network. We plan on making it as discreet as possible.

JT: It will help people who are living with the disease to cope more effectively. The user can track their symptoms, see patterns and potentially predict future symptoms. Clinicians and researchers can then better manage existing treatment strategies and develop new ones to help the person using the app as well as the wider MS community.

AG: We wanted to create a device that is comfortable enough to wear but that can provide information that is accurate enough for researchers to trust.

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It sounds like it’s about putting together a better and more personalized picture of what living with MS really looks like.

MT: Yes. Think of it like a diary. This app is doing the work of writing everything down for you. It’s writing down what you’re feeling, your heart rate, your stress level, your physical activity, the drugs you take, it’s even writing down the food you’ve eaten. So now you have a detailed log of all these things to share with your healthcare team.

DB: And maybe your doctor can connect the dots. Like if they know that you experience tremors in a specific set of conditions, then they can determine how to control that.

What has it been like working with us [the MS Society] on moving your project from a concept on paper to a functioning prototype?

DB: It’s so important that research like this receive funding.

MS: The MS Society was really positive and helpful in connecting us with neurologists and other medical professionals who could help us.

MT: We’d be going in one direction and talk to a healthcare professional who would guide our focus in a different direction. Then we’d meet a neurologist who would let us know what type of data they need in order to connect those dots, and that’s how the project sort of grew.

AG: And of course all of this is coupled with the support we received from the MS Society chapter in Kitchener. They gave us the opportunity to speak with people affected by MS. The entire process, from last year at the hack-a-thon to now, just keeps getting more and more exciting.

MS: The MS Society gave us the freedom to choose what we want to do as long as it has a positive result.
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What is the best part about working together on this project?

MT: If we’re successful – and I hope we are – in creating something that can help cure MS, we could save a whole lot of people from this disease.

AG: We want to improve the situation so that people can stay in the comfort of their home and still be monitored in real-time. Our team effort has nurtured the whole process.

JT: What excites me the most about this project is the team, to be honest. We’re all very interested in doing something good for society. And to me that is intrinsically motivating.

Where do you see yourselves going next?

MS: Within the next 10 years I see myself as a professor of bio-medical engineering.

I want to do my master’s and my PhD with a concentration on interfacing technology with bio-medical engineering concepts.

AG: I just want to continue this revolution of working more towards improving people’s health and quality of life. We are here to fight this disease – to create something that works towards ending MS.


Team TBS’ app is still in development and will undergo many more weeks of testing and prototyping before it becomes available in the marketplace.  These processes can often cause a series of hurdles and delays, but the team is confident that by spring 2017 the app will be online and ready to provide healthcare teams with the info they need to improve your quality of life. Until then, keep your eye on the blog as well as Dr. Karen Lee’s blog for updates from Team TBS.

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