Bioengineering students take top prize at hackathon

Safa Hameed, Mehreen Ali and Lubna Shah

After an action-packed 24 hours, three UIC Bioengineering students developed a medical device solution that would lead to more successful treatments of gastroschisis in Rwanda, which won first prize during the Global Surgery Student Alliance Hackathon hosted recently by Baylor and Harvard University. To win the event, Mehreen Ali, Safa Hameed and Lubna Shah and drew a lot of their knowledge and problem-solving skills from their classes at UIC.

“You have to think outside your box and actually apply what is happening around you and take into consideration your real-world limitations,” said Hameed, a junior in bioengineering and vice president of UIC WISE Med.

During the event, keynote speakers highlighted requirements needed for their global surgery problem, then participants had four hours to work on their solution, keeping in mind that the devices needed to be low cost, sustainable, intuitive and durable. Students had to conduct research on the problem statement, consider and repurpose readily available materials in low-and middle-income countries, such as old and used medical devices the hospital received from other countries, and create a viable solution, which culminated in a video presentation with their findings, all within a few hours.

Their medical device solution specifically focused on a heated blanket that could be assembled on-site and required no form of electricity to function.

“The problem we choose, gastroschisis in Rwanda, is a birth defect that requires an operation after birth, but the problem was, if the baby is born in a local hospital, they would need to be relocated to operate. Otherwise, the baby can suffer from hypothermia, which can lead to death,” said Shah, a junior and service committee member of the Honors College Advisory Board. “A blanket was the first thing that came to mind. A blanket is low cost and can be found anywhere, but a heated blanket was our initial idea, so we went with it.” 

The hackathon was a unique experience that allowed participants to apply their medical device development and project management skills, as well as learn more about the global health field from current experts.

“Being able to receive feedback on our solution from field experts and discuss their experiences with them lent a new perspective on global health that I would have not been exposed to otherwise,” said Ali, a junior and secretary of the UIC Chapter of Biomedical Engineering Society.

The GSSA Hackathons are open to students from many majors. Click here to sign up for the Major League Hacking updates.

“All engineering and computer science majors should try to participate in a hackathon at least once throughout their undergraduate career because there’s so many skills you can apply and develop, as well as connections you can form with students from other institutions, so it’s a win-win-win situation,” Ali said.




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