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Hacking for the win: Stanford students design new technology for nurses in need

Early fever detection is crucial for patients with sepsis, but it's often a challenging task for nurses in settings where hospital wards are severely understaffed and resources are few. Now, two Stanford undergraduates have designed a low-cost technology to help pediatric oncology nurses monitor patients for fevers – and they were rewarded for their work at the Global Cancer Innovation Hackathon held recently at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Fever Finder, which was developed with an interdisciplinary team of students, industry representatives, a physician and patient advocate, earned Jason Ku Wang and Shivaal Roy the first-place prize among more than 20 teams who competed in the hackathon. Their battery-powered device consists of a sensor and control board that provides continuous temperature monitoring. When a fever is detected, the device sends an automated SMS text message to alert the nurse, who is able to administer antibiotic almost immediately.

Current devices used in the U.S. to monitor patients’ vital cost upwards of $100 per patient, and the team estimates that their low-tech alternative could be manufactured at a fraction of the price, for as little as $10 each. Fever Finder was specifically designed to provide a quick sepsis detection and response system in low-resource settings like Rwanda, where nurses may be outnumbered 40 patients to 1.

Hosted by Global Oncology, a nonprofit co-founded by Stanford physician-scientist Ami Bhatt, MD, PhD, and the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech), the hackathon brought together teams of more than 180 clinicians, engineers, industry experts and students of all disciplines to co-create new medical technologies and solutions to transform cancer prevention, diagnosis and care in resource-limited settings.

“[Hackathons] create an ideal environment where people are given access to hardware resources and can collaborate on a project with people from different backgrounds in a concentrated period of time,” Wang, a mathematical and computer science major, told me after returning to campus. “The benefit of health hackathons is the focus on building real, viable solutions to a specific problem, and how to get those solutions into the market.”

Roy, who also studies computer science, became interested in health hackathons as an opportunity to help bridge the gap between technologies that are available and technologies that are being implemented.

With support from the Center for Innovation in Global Health and faculty advisors including Bhatt and ophthalmologist Robert Chang, MD, Roy and Wang are now organizing the first health-centric hackathon at Stanford in the fall. Led by the student group SHIFT, the two-day event will bring together physicians, residents, industry leaders and students to come up with new, low-cost innovations to help address health challenges in low-resource settings around the world. Details will be shared on the SHIFT website later this spring.

Photo, of prototype of Fever Finder, courtesy of Jason Wang and Shivaal Roy

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