Medical Students use Tech Skills to create Life-Saving App

 

The 2014 Imagine Cup World Champions were back in town recently for a weeklong YouthSpark Boot Camp, which they won as part of their grand prize. The boot camp was designed to connect the winning team with experts relevant to their solution as well as the broader ecosystem needed to help them bring their solution to market. 

I often say that ‘everyone is a developer’ in today’s world of technology. Jarrel Seah and Jennifer Tang are living proof of that – these medical students at Monash University in Australia, developed the solution that won the World Citizenship category, the overall Imagine Cup.  I recently had the chance to sit down with them and shortly after the private mentoring session with Bill Gates that they earned as a result of their win.

 

Their solution, Eyenaemia, is an app for Windows Phone that uses a selfie to calculate the risk of anaemia, a condition of low red blood cells that is the most common blood disorder in the world and affects an estimated 2 billion people globally. Jennifer and Jarrel discovered the need for the solution while doing field work among aboriginal people in Australia. They came across villages of women and children who were going undiagnosed, which inspired them to create a low-cost, non-invasive, and easily accessible test for this condition.

Though medicine is their first passion, they have always been interested in computer science and programming and were able to see the role technology can play in both shaping and improving some of the problems they wanted to solve in the medical field.

Jarrell learned to code on the side while attending Monash University in Victoria and developed the app.  Instead of the typical screening for anaemia which requires a blood test taken with sterile equipment and an expensive processing lab, it allows the untrained to diagnose the disorder at a dramatically reduced price. The app sends a photo of the eye to Microsoft Azure where automated processing and image analysis occurs in the cloud.  Once analysis is complete, their server sends an assessment back to the phone.

This is just one example of how coding can be used to innovate and address real-life needs. It also shows how young people can use technology to shape a future in whatever field they decide to pursue and that anyone who wants to make an app, can find the resources and people willing to help. Learning to code is becoming easier and easier and the tools to learn are readily available for students through a variety of Microsoft programs.

Jennifer and Jarrel used free software available to students through DreamSpark, including Visual Studio 2013 Professional to build their solution. They also utilized Microsoft Azure which allowed them to perform data computations in the cloud and gave their applications the stability and scalability needed to support the project’s success.

Without the Imagine Cup, they say their idea might still be just that: an idea. The competition gave them the support, resources, and tools they needed to turn their idea into an app and then present it on a world stage. Both students see programming as an important skill that will continue to open doors for people in all professions and say they hope that others will be motivated to learn new technologies and use them for practical solutions. They continue to advocate for the powers of computer science among their peers.

As they finish their last year of medical school, the two have big plans for the future. They will use the $50,000 prize they won and the expert advice they received during the Microsoft YouthSpark boot camp to continue development on the app. They are already partnering with hospitals to test the app and are now looking for NGO and commercial partners to help conduct further research. You can find out more about the project on the Team Eyenaemia website and follow them on Twitter @Eyenaemia.  The Imagine Cup 2015 season is underway, I encourage all students who have an idea to participate and use technology to bring their idea to life.   

– Guggs