Patrick Wu

Neuro Nexus: A Brain Health Hackathon

It’s been a while since I published anything, so apologies for that! There were a lot of exciting projects that I was working on recently that took up most of my time. (Hopefully, I’ll be able to share some of that with you all soon!)

Most recently, I decided to try my hand at something that I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Despite volunteering for events like Startup Weekend in the past, I never had a chance to actually participate in a hackathon yet.

It was very fortunate timing that I was invited to participate in the first Neuro Nexus hackathon. It was the perfect opportunity to get involved with early-stage health innovation.

What is Neuro Nexus?

Neuro Nexus is Calgary’s first hackathon specifically focused on neuroscience and mental health challenges. It takes its model from Innovation 4 Health’s Health Hack competition.

I talked a bit about I4H as one of the entry points into Calgary’s life sciences community. I4H is an initiative started by local graduate students who wanted to encourage more health technology innovation.

What inspired Neuro Nexus, then? Kathryn Simone, co-executive lead for Neuro Nexus, described a disconnect between the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute. Both institutions produced phenomenal research, but don’t often get a chance to interact with each other. What would happen if we brought those two groups together?

Neuro Nexus gathered a large team of student volunteers to recruit challenges, innovators, and find sponsorship for the event. It’s incredibly impressive to see what they managed to pull off.

“As we were doing this, we started to notice that Neuro Nexus just… wanted to happen,” Simone explained. “As organizers, all we had to do was to make sure we didn’t get in the way.”

Pitch Day!

Neuro Nexus innovators taking a break from the presentations.

Yesterday was the first official day of the competition. Innovators watched short, 5-minute pitches from researchers, industry leaders, and community members.

There were a lot of pitches. 25 of them, in fact, split into physical devices and software applications. Challenges spanned the whole gamut of mental health and neuroscience, from better access to resources for mental health patients to very specific challenges for MRI data processing.

Later that afternoon, we had the opportunity to form teams around these challenges. Over the next six weeks, the teams will research, prototype, and work on solutions culminating in a weekend hackathon session in mid-May.

I’m fortunate to have joined a team where I will be able to contribute some of my design skills. Our project is to help doctors better prescribe anti-depressants to patients based on the patient’s genotype. Using pharmacogenomics (i.e. how drugs are affected by each person’s unique genotype), we can better predict how patients might respond to different anti-depressants. This would save everybody a lot of grief from the long trial-and-error process we currently have.

The specific challenge is automating report creation and designing those reports to clearly communicate data to clinicians and patients. (Sound familiar? I feel like we can learn a bit from them.) I’m very excited about how this project will turn out over the next few weeks.

Time to look at some clinical reports, I guess!

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