Hack4Health: Innovative MS wellness solutions take centre-stage

It feels like only yesterday that Team Tera Bio Solutions (TBS), a group of creative, young science and engineering students at University of Waterloo, were awarded $15,000 from the MS Society to create a technological concept and develop it into a wellness tool for people living with multiple sclerosis. The blueprint for this tool was borne out of Hack4Health, a “hackathon” based at University of Waterloo in September last year in which teams of students were given 36 caffeine-fueled hours to put their heads together and develop wellness solutions with the potential to improve quality of life for people living with MS or dementia. To guide their thought process, participants of Hack4Health relied on the wellness priorities expressed by the MS community, both through the MS Wellness Survey and through interacting with people living with MS who acted as mentors during the event. Fast forward one year, and Team TBS is a few steps closer to completing the prototype for its wellness concept. So what has Team TBS been working on since their project kicked off earlier this year, and what inspired them to pursue this approach in the first place?

Team TBS (left to right: Abhinav Grover, Denez Zahra Bokhari, Muhammad Inzamam Tahir, Muhammad Tahsin Sharif)

Team TBS (left to right: Abhinav Grover, Denez Zahra Bokhari, Muhammad Inzamam Tahir, Muhammad Tahsin Sharif)

Technology is playing a greater role in the lives of people living with MS than ever before. Advances in technology and digital media – including mobile sensory technologies and social networking tools – are filtering into many facets of people’s lives, and the desire to integrate and exploit these technological tools to better track and manage the disease has been voiced by many in the MS community through the MS Wellness Survey. Nowhere is the potential for monitoring health and wellness outside of the clinical setting more promising than in the field of wearable sensory technology, which can bring together important functions like automated symptom monitoring, user-recorded wellness logging, and communication with an individual’s healthcare team – all into a small and portable package.

Team TBS, consisting of undergraduate students Denez Zahra Bokhari, Muhammad Tahsin Sharif, Abhinav Grover, and Muhammad Inzamam Tahir, latched onto the idea of a wearable wellness- and symptom-monitoring tool as a guiding principle of their project. Under the supervision of Dr. James Tung, Professor of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at University of Waterloo and an expert in wearable health care devices, Team TBS has spent the last 6 months or so refining their concept into a testable prototype. The goal: to translate the prototype into a fully-formed product that will be available for people living with MS.

Team TBS describes their concept as an interactive software app that is integrated with an existing health monitoring wristband – the Microsoft Band – and makes full use of its functionality. This includes allowing users to track multiple physiological variables and log their wellness-related activities, along with automatically capturing contextual information like time and temperature. The app can detect several biological measures, including heart rate, skin temperature, pedometer (i.e., step count) and galvanic skin resistance, which is a widely-used measure of stress. The app also boasts a logging function that allows a user to record important information about their daily routine including diet and physical activity, symptoms, and drug administration along with any side effects. Together, this sensor and logging data is crunched together, streamed to a paired smart device such as a mobile phone, and integrated into graphs and tables that paint a complete picture of a user’s well-being. At the same time, the app stores this information and can relay it to a user’s health management team – including their caregiver, neurologist, and other healthcare practitioners like a physical therapist, dietician, etc. – to give them an in-depth glimpse into the user’s well-being in a real-world setting.

A cornerstone of the design and testing process has been a constant back-and-forth dialogue with the people who know MS best; namely, people living with the disease. Over the past few months, Team TBS have worked closely with people living with MS in the local community to pitch app design features, gather feedback and begin preliminary prototype testing. The team also connected with a local neurologist who helped them decide what type of data was important to collect and how that data could be integrated to construct a faithful picture of a user’s symptoms and well-being. Overall, the development of the concept has been a collaborative process from day 1, and the feedback from the patient and medical communities has been instrumental in informing the design aspects of the system.

Hack4Health returns this year to the University of Waterloo, kicking off tonight and continuing until Sunday. Much like last year, Hack4Health 2.0 will provide an exciting space for creative student “hackers” to create practical applications – whether they’re software, hardware or social solutions – for people living with MS or dementia. Our research team will be on-site Saturday and Sunday to provide mentorship to the hackers on MS wellness priorities, judge the project concepts, as well as keep our audience in the loop about the exciting concepts being developed. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter (@Dr_KarenLee) for up-to-the-minute updates from the event.

To learn more about Team TBS and the faces behind the project, head over to the MS Society blog and read our interview with the team about their concept and its impact on people living with MS, as well as a spotlight on team member Denez Bokhari. You can also check out the video below to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the project.

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