Calgary Health Hack challenge probes ways to improve diagnostics and monitoring

The University of Calgary's Health Hack competition brought together 19 teams of students from across several disciplines to brainstorm solutions to a series of challenges presented by the organizers.

Judging the projects takes place on Tuesday; 5 winning teams will share $20K in prize money

University of Calgary student Nilesh Sharma shows off part of his team's prototype — a wearable device designed to sense an opioid overdose in the user and deliver a shot of naloxone. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Students from the University of Calgary have been working all weekend to come up with health technology solutions they hope will save lives.

The University of Calgary's Health Hack competition brought together 19 teams of students from across several disciplines to brainstorm solutions to a series of challenges chosen by the organizers. The theme this year is medical diagnostics and monitoring.

"The goal is to bring together scientists, researchers and innovators in general with medical professionals and patients to solve real world challenges," said Danielle Whittier​, the co-director of the Health Hack competition.

This year's projects include a game-style app to help stroke patients in their rehabilitation, a low-cost camera to assist with dentistry in horses and training simulators for spinal taps and another for neurosurgery.

A team works on a device that would assist veterinarians to view inside a horse's mouth and check its teeth.

"When you're practicing on a patient there's no room for mistakes," said Sean Vandersluis, one of 120 innovators taking part in the competition.

Vandersluis and his team were developing a simulator of the human spine using 3D printing and polymers that mimic tissues.

"We're trying to move into the more simulator space so you can make mistakes, it gives you feedback, you get more education from it and it's more accessible for all med students."

Student Dion Kelly and her teammates were working on a solution to help in Canada's opioid crisis. They came up with a device that would be worn on the chest and thigh that could sense an overdose, administer naloxone and alert EMS.

"The person will be wearing a sensor device, which will be on their chest and it senses heart rate, blood oxygen, skin conductance, as well as chest muscle rigidity. When those parameters deviate from the baseline, the signal is sent to the injection device which is worn on the thigh," she said. 

Student innovator Dion Kelly said even if her team's project doesn't win the competition, they plan to move forward with developing their prototype. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Dion said a potential market for their device would be first responders, who can be at risk of an overdose when responding to a drug call.

"Even if we don't win in this competition we're taking this forward and making it into like a proper prototype that can be helpful for people," Dion said.

The teams will present their prototypes to a panel of experts on Monday, with final judging taking place on Tuesday.

Five winning teams get a share of the $20,000 prize money and will also be offered in-kind services from entrepreneurial experts like consulting firms.

The ultimate goal though, Whittier said, isn't to instantly produce a viable project.

"It would be great if one of these ideas actually went to market very quickly, but the idea is really to get these people together," Whittier​ said.

"It might not be this project that they work on to get out there, but because they've met in this environment and actually worked toward a common goal and learned each other's skills, they work on other problems as well and something gets out there down the road."

With files from Kate Adach and Audrey Neveu


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