BIO2015 Idea Hack Recap

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The MIT Hacking Medicine team was at BIO2015 in Philadelphia to run a 4-hour, all hands on deck, action-filled Idea Hack last Thursday, 18 June. We had a blast meeting all the participants and getting the room to innovate solutions around three awesome topic: personalized medicine, clinical trials, and patient engagement. And yes, you heard me right — we held a 4-hour hackathon, and the ideas were amazing!


Mike Spear from Genome Alberta caught up with our very own Ned McCague and Chris Lee to give you a rundown of the controlled chaos:

If you wanted to see one of the most energetic presentations at BIO 2015 in Philadelphia you needed to attend the Idea Design Studio Hacking Medicine session put on by MIT. Ned McCague (pictured below) led things off and continued to use his high energy style to keep the attendees not only engaged, but also to help get them actively involved and do some work…

[Click here for the full article and podcast at Genome Alberta.]

Ned McCague, running the BIO2015 Idea Hack

Ned McCague, running the BIO2015 Idea Hack.
Picture from Genome Alberta

Reflections from the Global Health Track of the Grand Hack!

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The CAMTech Global Health Track of our Grand Hack was a resounding success! Check out some reflections from two of the top placing teams!

Rethinking the boda-boda: applying user-centered design to keep Ugandan women safe

By: Ayan Bhandari, on behalf of team ‘Nyweza’

Developing solutions for global issues is difficult without cultural context. The Grand Hack gave our team a chance to understand the cultures we were designing for by bringing people with experiences and expertise from all over the world, together. Our team’s goal was driven by Lydia Asiimwe’s story and her near death experience from falling off a Ugandan motorcycle taxi (boda-boda).


We took a user-centric design approach and started by trying to understand everything we could about the people, environment, transportation history, and the culture surrounding Uganda by interviewing Lydia about her experience. This framework allowed us to derive the following concept drivers: (1) women in Uganda are required to sit side saddle as it is deemed inappropriate otherwise (2) they wear long dresses with material that makes it very easy to slide off the motorcycle with the slightest bump (3) When you are carrying anything, you exponentially increase your chance of injury because you have to hold on with one hand, or you are crowding the available space on the motorcycle, decreasing the control the driver has. Our goal became “how do we prevent injury and trauma for women who have to sit side straddle on a boda-bodas in rural Uganda”.


Next, we started to dive deeper into the culture of the people as well as that of boda-bodas to understand how we could approach solving the problem. We moved from designing something that people could carry around, approaches for manufacturers to make motorcycles safer, and eventually decided that an accessory to current boda-bodas would be the most sustainable and adoptable approach.


After understanding what type of materials and manufacturing techniques were available in Uganda, we started to sketch and prototype around many different ideas. We landed on the L shaped brace that attaches to the sister bar (a common part on most motorcycles) that gives the side saddle user comfort, storage space, and safety during their ride. This same brace can also rotate into a second “mode” that allows for extra storage space when there isn’t someone sitting side saddle.


The greatest success of our team is its diversity and experience. We are composed of an Industrial Designer (Ayan Bhandari) Who brought Ximedica’s user-centric design approach, a Biomedical Engineer (Blesson John) who works in Global Health, a public health specialist (Anu Mather) that has worked with implementing programs in different cultures, and a user (Lydia Asiimwe) who has experienced every detail of the problem we were trying to solve. We believe that “Good design is not about what you can do, it’s about what you should do” and we continue to work on Nyweza (Ugandan for “hold on tight”) to create a prototype that we can get onto boda-bodas in Uganda in the near future.



Innovation in contraception: development of minimally-invasive and permanent methods for sterilisation

By: Dr. Lavanya Kiran, on behalf of team ‘To-U’

I was invited from Bangalore, India by the CAMTech team to attend the MIT Hacking Medicine Grand Hack as a mentor. I accepted this invitation as it would be an experience to meet new people. To my surprise, the Grand Hack truly was GRAND – it was an amazing experience to feel and be among the young intellectual crowd from all over the world, each from varying backgrounds and different cultures.

I was invited to mentor at the Global Health Track, but seeing the energy of the crowd I was so inspired that I couldn’t stop myself from pitching some ideas. I pitched about 7 ideas, mentored 3 teams, and made a lot of new friends from around the world. In the end, our team won the 1st runner up prize for our presentation on “TO-U”. We as a team of 5 people from different backgrounds, including me as their mentor and clinical expert, designed an instrument which is minimally invasive, non hormonal, and a permanent method of sterilisation for women. I’m sure this instrument will definitely make a break through in the field of contraception.

I believe that we have to always be the part of the change to bring change. Such hackathons definitely make changes to society in order to bring all great industries to work under one roof to make changes in technology. I also must not miss this opportunity to express my regards to the organisers in handling a crowd of 400 people so elegantly – I was definitely impressed to see that the coffee was available around the clock and food to the surplus amount to satisfy the huge crowd!


Health Hackathon Winners Provide A Window Into The Future Of Healthcare

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A mobile app that guides sonographers towards ideal ultrasound probe positioning [1], and an easy-to-install device that enhances safety for the predominantly women passengers of motorcycles in low and middle-income countries [2]. These were just some of the innovative solutions that surfaced from the Grand Hack health hackathon, where participants worked on healthcare challenges within one of four tracks: global health, primary care, telehealth enabled care pathways, and wearables.

Organized by MIT Hacking Medicine from April 24th to 26th at the MIT Media Lab, the Grand Hack teams had just under 48 hours to pitch healthcare problems, form groups, prototype a solution, and develop a business model, before presenting their ideas to judges. Up for grabs were not only cash prizes that totalled more than $13,000, but also awards for teams to develop their ideas into startups through incubation and mentorship opportunities.

“With the collision of health, high tech, and value-based care, there really is no better time to create a healthcare start-up,” said Zen Chu, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and one of the founders of MIT Hacking Medicine. “We’re excited to see teams from this weekend develop and launch their solutions.”

The weekend hackathon saw a turnout of over 450 participants from 19 states and eight countries – including participants from Canada, Ecuador, India, Mexico, Taiwan, Uganda, and Qatar – for a total of 80 teams across the four tracks. Now in its second year, the Grand Hack is MIT Hacking Medicine’s flagship event to innovate in healthcare by bringing the entire spectrum of healthcare stakeholders together in a hackathon.

“We were so excited to see the diversity of clinicians, engineers, developers, and designers, because we find that the best healthcare solutions come from the most diverse teams,” said Priya Garg, MIT mechanical engineering senior and MIT Hacking Medicine co-director. “A great example is the first prize winner of the Wearables track – Pillar, an oral contraceptive dispenser built into a smart bracelet that increased users’ medication adherence. The team consisted of a chemical biological engineer, a computer scientist, a management consultant, and an industrial designer.”

Health hackathons are being used by an increasingly wide range of organizations to solve tough healthcare problems and understand future business opportunities. Track sponsors for the Grand Hack include Massachusetts General Hospital’s Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech), GE Healthcare, Microsoft, and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

Lina Colucci, MIT Hacking Medicine’s other co-director and a PhD student in the MIT-Harvard Health Sciences and Technology program, said: “All of us have a stake in what the future of healthcare looks like because all of us will interface with the healthcare system at some point in our lives. Health hackathons like the Grand Hack bring diverse stakeholders under one roof and allow them to create that future together.”

For more information, please refer to Annexes A, B and C.

[1] Infinity Ultrasound, winner of the GE Ultrasound Grand Prize.

[2] Nyweza, winner of the CAMTech Global Health track first prize.

Related Resources

Annex A: Factsheet on winning teams
Annex B: Factsheet on the Grand Hack tracks
Annex C: Quotes From and Information on Gold sponsors


About MIT Hacking Medicine

The mission of MIT Hacking Medicine (MIT HackMed) is to energize the health ecosystem to solve some of healthcare’s biggest challenges by connecting the best and most diverse minds. Since holding the first ever health hackathon in 2010, the MIT student group has organized 37 health hackathons with more than 30 national and international organizations. More than 10 healthcare start-ups have emerged from MIT HackMed’s health hackathons. For more information, visit


Media Contact

Shirlene Liew
shirlene [at] mit [dot] edu

Regina wants your help to make doors more disability-friendly. What will you build this weekend?

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Diagnosed with four different cancers and a brain cyst since 2001, Regina Pontes says she’s lucky.
One cancer was discovered when Pontes, a singer, noted hoarseness in her voice. Another was revealed following a routine mammogram, which had worried doctors calling Pontes back in for more tests.
“I told them, “˜Now I know how Cindy Crawford feels,'” Pontes said. “Everyone always wants to take her picture.
Pontes’s upbeat attitude was tested following the removal of a large number of lymph nodes from her right side and ensuing severe bouts of cellulitis, which nearly forced the amputation of her right arm. Skin burns from the radiation kept her out of work longer than planned.
Not only that, but a brain tumor re-diagnosed as a cyst during surgery exploded, causing spinal fluid leaks and meningitis that nearly killed Pontes “” and a stroke in August 2011 left her in a wheelchair, without the use of her left hand.

Regina Pontes (here) is an amazing woman and has asked Grand Hack participants to hear her pitch on what she’d like you all to build this weekend… think “Open Sesame!” Check out Regina’s presentation and videos below to learn more why people with disabilities need doorways that are engineered better.

Regina has kindly volunteered her phone number for anyone who wants to call her this weekend and learn more about the challenges she faces.

(Talk to Lina from the MIT HackMed team this weekend to learn more.)

What will you build this weekend?


Check out Regina’s presentation: Open Sesame!

Part 1 of the video:


Part 2 of the video:


(Photo from 

Participant Perspectives on the Samsung-MGH Mobile Health Hackathon

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The Innovation Challenge by Samsung Electronics, Co. Ltd. in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT Hacking Medicine on November 7th and 8th, 2014 was a resounding success!  Check out reflections by two of our participants:

               Innovations in healthcare will define our society in this century. And events like hackathons play a critical role in enabling that future. As a first time hacker, it was overwhelming to see so much creativity and drive to induce a change, to make an impact, to innovate. From 100 scattered individuals to 25 actionable ideas in under 30 hours – that is amazing. It speaks volumes about what a band of multi-disciplined minds can achieve when they act in unison to address a specific pain-point. 

                Having worked in a corporate research lab for five years, I know first hand how challenging it can be to bring people to agree to a problem, let alone innovate a solution. I have seen three barriers to group creativity: (a) Individuals who are inherently protective of their ideas, married to their philosophies and threatened by change, (b) Executive management that incentivizes behavior to confirm to a system, does not promote bottom-up creativity but rewards top-down restructuring, and (c) Organization culture that is dedicated to speed of execution, to reduce their time-to-market, at the cost of innovation. At the hackathon, we had none of these. 

                The individuals that came to the hackathon were determined to make a difference. Not everyone that got selected had a problem to pitch – that was a fantastic design. Because when only 25 individuals pitched a problem, 75 others were listening intently. So we banded together. Who would have thought that a diverse group of software programmers, clinicians, user experience strategist and an engineer post-doc would win two awards in the same night. But we did! What brought us together was the problem statement, a concurred vision that was worth fighting for, and a belief that it would have significant impact for the hospital. Before we split on the first night, we named our team, shared our contact info and set out a gameplan for the next day.

                The day of the hackathon was electric – from start to finish. Our first step was to assess whether our senior executives i.e. mentors would align with us or would they rather steer us in a different direction. To our surprise, they jumped on us (in a good way!). Five minutes into the conversation, they reaffirmed how real the problem was and the ramifications it would have if solved. We were talking analogies and extrapolating into the future. Those fifteen minutes energized us for the remainder of the day – just the kind of management we desire to stay motivated, focused and creative. We still had a long day ahead of us and I can summarize our activities into four phases: (1) Group huddle to spend “a day in the life of Anne”. (2) Break group into two: strategic and technical (3) Regroup to discuss technical solution and check whether it aligned with the user groups (3) Solicit feedback from technical and pitch mentors (4) Build, Build, Build – Build a demo, Build a business model, Build a pitch.

                I remember at the start of the day I was kind of worried whether we were too big a team (8 members). In retrospect, we could not have done without each of them. And we improvised and adapted very quickly as the day progressed. The round-table format was not working for us to discuss and understand the needs and requirements of our target user – too many distractions (laptops, cellphones) and not enough proximity. So we left our tables, our gadgets, took our pens, notepads, poster-its, and went to the wall and floor. We huddled together on our knees with our heads down and that helped us cut out the rest of the room. Every now and then, one or two of us would take a walk – just to collect our thoughts. We broke into smaller groups to discuss/achieve specific tasks separately and regrouped to piece together our perspectives and solution as a whole. We signed up for the practice pitch early on – one of the best decisions we made. We absolutely failed at the pitch practice session. It was an eye opener, to say the least. We understood immediately that we had to get our message out in a clear, brief and complete fashion – all within 3 minutes. So we scripted it – word by word, line by line, and timed it until we got it right. Like I said, it was electric!

                It’s been four days since the event, and we are still reeling from the adrenalin rush. But this is just the beginning. As I sit back, there’s one overriding thought that I have: why isn’t everyone already doing this? Every organization needs this: our schools, our hospitals, our corporates, and academic research centers (even more so, I would say). So to the MIT Hackathon Organizing Team, I say: KUDOS, for being such a wonderful catalyst. I am told that this particular event was organized in just under 18 days. Congratulations! Keep doing it, over and over again. Do not turn down anyone who comes to you asking for help. Do not stop, ever. To the Hackers, I say: BRAVO, what an idea! Now go out there and build it. We will see you in Round 2.

Gautam Goel, Postdoctoral Associate at MGH Center for Computational & Integrative Biology 

               I believe there are two things that make innovation and entrepreneurship potentially difficult for physicians. The first is experience. For better or worse, in many ways medical training is antithetical to start up culture. Overcoming this inherent structure can be difficult. The other is access to talent. As physicians, we spend the vast majority of our time within the healthcare framework with other medical professionals. But healthcare technology innovation and its successful commercialization requires a confluence of engineering, business and medical expertise. For those with the inclination, MIT Hacking Medicine provides a very efficient venue to explore innovation with like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds. Participating in the MIT Hacking Medicine Hackathon at MGH in collaboration with Samsung revealed how powerful the right setting can be in facilitating the innovation process. The conversations, thought experiments and prototyping that took place at this event were truly unique and valuable experiences. It is hard to imagine a more fertile ground for finding talented people or cultivating innovative ideas over such a short period of time. I highly recommend MIT Hacking Medicine hackathon for those interested in healthcare innovation. 

Raymond Hwang, M.D., M.Eng, MBA


CAMTech Uganda Hackathon: An Interest in Global Health Comes Full Circle

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By: Bryan Ranger, MIT Hacking Medicine Team Member

Thanks to generous support from MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), I was able to take part in the second annual CAMTech Hackathon in Mbarara, Uganda. I have participated in hackathons before as a team member of MIT Hacking Medicine, but this hackathon in particular struck a chord with me. Not only was the event inspirational in and of itself, but it provided a concrete reminder of why I became interested in global health in the first place.

Three years ago, I spent a summer working at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), which coincidentally also happens to be the location of this year’s hackathon. Although I was conducting social-behavioral research that summer, even as a biomedical engineering student then, I could not help but notice many of the challenges that physicians in the hospital in Mbarara faced. Simple things such as using and maintaining donated medical equipment, or providing the correct tools for healthcare practitioners to do their job, proved to be an unceasing problem that perhaps rarely existed in the United States and other developed nations.

Despite the obstacles I observed in Mbarara, what I did notice during that summer was the presence of innovative thinking in the community that one rarely sees in hospitals in the developed world. Working with limited resources forces clinicians to be creative in everything that they do to serve their patients. For example, I witnessed how masterful healthcare practitioners were when working with unfamiliar technology, or how persistent they were in trying to make use of whatever equipment they could get their hands on.

This innovative spirit and passion for providing healthcare to their community members impressed me. I remember asking myself that summer: could it be possible to get these clinicians involved in coming up with effective and more accessible medical technology for their community? How can local entrepreneurs get involved? And would local engineers in Mbarara be interested in working for this type of cause? These questions lingered until I became a graduate student at MIT.

In the Fall of 2014, I found myself as a graduate student sitting in a lecture delivered by Dr. Kris Olson, the medical director of CAMTech at MGH’s Center for Global Health. While sitting in on his lecture, I noticed a significant overlap of interests between his work and my interests. I immediately contacted him wanting to get involved with CAMTech’s projects. Upon meeting with the CAMTech team, I was informed that the group runs hackathons in both Uganda and India and were also launching co-creation labs in these two locations. At that moment, it became clear that everything I was doing was coming full circle. All of my previous thoughts in Mbarara that summer, experiences working on global health challenges, and my efforts of involving local talented innovators to come up with solutions were converged nicely together. A possible process to solve global health challenges became clear: to support and promote hackathons.

Participation in the hackathon in Mbarara after three years from my first time there was incredible. The Hackathon had participants from four different continents, over fifty different pitches were made, and by the end of the weekend numerous teams had proposed solutions to local clinical challenges. The excitement of bringing so many different people together was electric! It goes without saying that I was so glad that I got to be a part of the event in Mbarara.

My own participation in the hackathon ended up being very focused and relevant to my own research at MIT. As a graduate student, I work in prosthetic device research at the MIT Media Lab, and also co-instruct a course at the MIT D-Lab called “Developing World Prosthetics.” Before heading to Mbarara for the hackathon, I reached out to a local prosthetist in Mbarara to see if he would be interested in working on a project together. To my excitement, he agreed.  As a result, I got to tour his facility at MUST, and we subsequently spent the weekend discussing challenges that he encounters, which were surprisingly similar to what is faced by prosthetists in the developed world. The two of us detailed out a few potential software solutions to prosthetic socket design that were based completely on open access software. This ensures that our ideas are accessible to users who have access to a computer anywhere in the world.

The proof of concept that we demonstrated at the end of the weekend seemed viable. This, in conjunction with some encouraging results that my research team at the MIT Media Lab had on a site visit in Kenya earlier this year, makes me confident that with some iteration and collaboration we can develop a solution with long-lasting impact on low-cost prosthetic design. These projects from Kenya and Uganda have even attracted the support of AutoDesk Research, a company that has invited me to its upcoming conference as a panelist on an innovation forum to discuss this work.

I am a firm believer that innovation should be local. This is what my experiences in Mbarara and beyond have taught me. It is too often the case, particularly in the global health sector, that western solutions are imposed on societies with limited resources, or that designs are simplified for developing countries to the point of losing functionality. There is significant room for game-changing innovation by engaging all stakeholders such as community clinicians, engineers, students, and entrepreneurs, etc. in a local context.  Hackathons have emerged as an approach which continues to bring people together and demonstrates there is existing passion, ability, ideas and innovation to solve local problems that is more culturally appropriate and specific.

Even though the duration of a hackathon is 48 hours, the event acts as a catalyst to bring the right people together with infectious energy to work on problems with tremendous impact. As the hackathon in Mbarara came to an end, I vividly remember looking over at Elizabeth Bailey, the director of CAMTech. With a smile on her face, she uttered to me, “seeing this, just makes my heart happy.” I couldn’t agree more.

*Photo credits: Bryan Ranger and Lina Colucci

Announcing the first ever Hacking Medicine Post Hack Pitchfest!

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Hacking Medicine Hackathons like Healthcare’s Grand Hackfest bring talented people together to solve real world problems in health care. But after the hackathon, these nascent teams often struggle to get to the next step, whether it’s to keep the team focused, secure pilots with industry customers, or get early investments.

To fill this gap in support of health care innovation, Hacking Medicine, careinnovators, and Boston Young Healthcare Professionals are co-organizing a new event called the Post Hack Pitchfest on June 19th from 6-9PM! The event is designed to give hackathon teams an opportunity to make progress on their business before pitching again to industry leaders, investors, and customers. Our goal is to help propel these companies to their next milestone. Each participant will be given 5 minutes to pitch their company to an esteemed panel to seek feedback and gain access to potential resources! Also the winner of this event will be given the opportunity to pitch on the mainstage at Stanford MedicineX in September. This event is part of the Boston Idea’s Week event series.

Event Details:
Date: Thursday, June 19th
Time: 6-9pm

Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP
Seaport West
155 Seaport Boulevard, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02210

Who should come:
The Post-Hack Pitch is open to the general public, and everyone is welcome to attend, root for, and learn from the pitches. People representing health care stakeholders are encouraged to attend to make connections with the startup teams. There will be plenty of opportunities to network, provide feedback, and discuss possible partnerships.

Link to RSVP: Please RSVP for the pitchfest here. The event is free and open to everyone!

Apply to Pitch:
Applications to pitch are open to startups at all levels. Teams from any past Hacking Medicine hackathon are eligible, as well as other startups in the ecosystem. 10 teams will be selected to make pitches. Please apply to pitch here by Monday, June 9th at 5PM.

OrganizersHacking MedicinecareinnovatorsBoston Young Health Professionals

Wall Street Journal features HackingMedicine

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‘Hackathons’ Aim to Solve Health Care’s Ills

Problem-Solving Sessions Popularized by Software Community Take Off in Medicine

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Hackathons, the high-octane, all-night problem-solving sessions popularized by the software-coding community, are making their way into the more traditional world of health care.

At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a recent event called Hacking Medicine’s Grand Hackfest attracted more than 450 people to work for one weekend on possible solutions to problems involving diabetes, rare diseases, global health and information technology used at hospitals.

Health institutions such as New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have held hackathons. MIT, meantime, has co-sponsored health hackathons in India, Spain and Uganda.

Hackathons of all kinds are increasingly popular. Intel Corp. INTC +2.13% recently bought a group that organizes them. Companies hoping to spark creative thinking sponsor them. And student-run hackathons have turned into intercollegiate competitions.

Full Article Here

WGBH/NPR Coverage of #GrandHack: Hacking to Improve Healthcare

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Hacking to Improve Healthcare

Hundreds of students, doctors, designers, engineers and entrepreneurs gathered in an innovation incubator at MIT this past weekend. Their goal? To develop solutions to some of health care’s most perplexing problems.

While most of the “hackers” at Healthcare’s Grand H@ckfest were from the Boston area, some came from as far away as Japan and India. They all had one thing in common.

“We’re all super-nerds here,” said Andrea Ippolito, a PhD student at MIT. “Super awkward. Don’t be shy. Don’t worry about a thing.”  Ippolito co-leads the student group Hacking Medicine, which has nothing to do with violating computer security.

“At MIT, we think of hacking as a really positive thing,” she said. “It means getting things done in a really short period of time and making a difference.”

During the 48-hour hackathon, about 400 strangers became collaborators. With diverse backgrounds and skill sets, many are new to healthcare. But that’s a good thing, because one of the hackathon’s goals is to bring new, innovative thinkers into the field in an attempt to solve some of healthcare’s most pervasive problems.