Friday, 29 August 2014

Student medicine app wins world award

Two Monash medical students will sit down for a face-to-face meeting with Microsoft founder Bill Gates next month.

The meeting is part of the prize for winning the world-wide competition, Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, with an entry that has its origins in north west Victoria.

Monash medical students, Jennifer Tang and Jarrel Seah take a selfie with Microsoft chief executive, Satya Nadella after winning the Microsoft Imagine Cup, a world-wide competition.

It was while final year students Jennifer Tang and Jarrel Seah were on student rotations in Mildura, Swan Hill and Bendigo that the idea for a selfie app to detect anaemia took root.

What is anaemia?

Two billion people world-wide suffer from anaemia which is particularly dangerous for pregnant women. It is caused by a deficiency in red blood cells which can be the result of a poor diet or other diseases and disorders. Anaemia can predispose you to things but it can also be an indication of other underlying conditions.

Called Eyenaemia, the technology is now being trialled at Mildura Base Hospital and Cabrini Hospital in Melbourne. It has the potential to revolutionise access to health services in remote areas around the world. The app is simple, non-invasive and an easily accessible screening tool.

Eyenaemia users snap a picture of their lower eyelid with their phone alongside a thumb-size chart that allows a computer system to screen for anaemia based on the colour of the eyelid. The photographs can also be entered into a website or sent via email.

Both students met in their first year of medicine at Monash Clayton with Jennifer part of the External Rural Cohort with the Monash School of Rural Health. They kept in contact and met up again when they were on student placements  - Jennifer completed third year in Bendigo and fourth year, with Jarrel, in Mildura and Swan Hill.

“We both have an interest in medical technology,” Jennifer said.  “Jarrel is interested in software and has a background in technology while I’m interested in design, especially app design, and website development.”

This combination of medicine, technology and design saw them develop several medical-based ideas which they entered in Australian competitions, encouraged by other people in the medical technology field. However it was while working in the north west, particularly among the Indigenous population in Mildura and Swan Hill, the Eyenaemia app proposal developed.

“We recognised a need to find some way of detecting anaemia early and treating it,” Jennifer explained. “And no objective screening method for anaemia existed.”
Anaemia is caused by a deficiency in red blood cells which can be the result of a poor diet or other diseases and disorders.

According to Jarrel, while working in the north west region, they also saw the long distances many patients travelled for medical appointments. “We thought it (the app) might be a good to a way for people to screen themselves at home or to have outreach workers screen them on the spot when they visited outlying areas,” he added.

The app development timeline was “quite speedy”, Jennifer said.

They brain-stormed in June, worked heavily on the software from September and continued research and data collection into January. Work was done at weekends and of a night, on top of their medical studies. Jennifer spent the first three months of this year in Mildura however Jarrel returned to Melbourne so there was “lots of Skyping” and emails.

The students praised Monash School of Rural Health Mildura director, Associate Professor Fiona Wright, for her support and advice as well as Mildura hospital staff and the hospital’s ethics committee for assistance.

Assoc Prof Wright was full of praise for the students. She said their win demonstrated not only their capability and communication skills, but their vision for the role of technology in the delivery of health care, especially to remote areas such as those in the north west.

Mildura Hospital started a one year trial of the Eyenaemia app in January however the two students are hopeful of having this extended to five years.  Cabrini is taking part in a five year trial. They believe a five year study of the app will be more beneficial however data collection has already revealed a 95 per cent accuracy rate.

Jennifer is taking the lead in the Mildura trial and Jarrel in the Cabrini trial.

Despite being cast onto the world stage, both students are busy finishing their final year of medicine. Jennifer, born and raised in Melbourne, is currently on placement at Monash Health, specialising in rheumatology while Jarrel, born in Malaysia and raised in Singapore, is doing his Bachelor of Medical Science (Honors) year at Alfred Health, looking at Computer Vision applications in medicine.

Both students want to continue practising medicine, combining it with their desire to develop practical and useful medical technology. They have already set up their own company.
“Practising medicine in the field will help us to identify problems,” Jennifer said. “This is why we want to continue to do medical technology and have set up our own company. Our desire is to improve health care through technical solutions.”

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