Wright State team wins global health design competition

Jimma Institute team places with long-distance presentation from Ethiopia

Wright State University’s Team Digital X-Ray took top honors in the 2014 National Undergraduate Global Health Technology Design Competition held at Rice University March 28 with its innovative approach to digitally capturing X-rays. The team captured first place in the  annual competition with a low-cost device that used off-the-shelf components and alleviated the need for hospitals in the developing world to purchase costly film, chemicals and other supplies.

Bioengineering's Maria Oden (left), co-director of Rice's Beyond Traditional Borders program, meets with Wright State University's Team Digital X-Ray -- Amena Shermadou, Katherine Gamber, Megan Markl and Luke Stork -- and the team's faculty adviser, Thomas Hangartner, distinguished professor of biomedical engineering, medicine and physics and chair of the Department of Biomedical, Industrial and Human Factors Engineering at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Credit: Wright State University

The competition, which is sponsored by Rice 360° Institute for Global Health Technologies and Beyond Traditional Borders, grew by more than 30 percent this year and drew 35 teams, including nine from Rice and five from the Jimma Institute of Technology (JIT) at Ethiopia’s Jimma University. Twenty-three teams from 18 universities participated in the final round of competition.

Second prize went to Team Cervical Cancer Screening Simulator from the University of Michigan for a device to help train clinical practitioners in the proper way to screen patients for cervical cancer using a common test called VIA. About 84 percent of cervical cancer cases occur in the developing world, and it has been estimated that properly conducted VIA tests could save millions of lives.

JIT’s Team Maranatha — which competed with a prerecorded presentation from Ethiopia — took third prize with its clever yet simple device for alerting practitioners about an overflowing suction pump — a serious situation in developing-world hospitals that often lack backup pumps. The award marked the first time that a team has placed in the competition via a long-distance submission, and conference organizers said they hope the win will spur international interest.

“It is especially exciting to have the continued participation of teams from JIT, which first competed last year with two teams,” said competition organizer Veronica Leautaud, director of education for Rice’s Beyond Traditional Borders program. “Their participation is leading the way for us to expand the event to include more international teams in the future. The JIT teams offered everyone a glimpse into solutions that are being developed locally in Africa, and that’s something we’d like to feature more.”

Teams were judged on how clearly they articulated the global health needs that their technology sought to address. They were also scored on the technical and social feasibility of their proposed solutions, and judges also considered the team’s plans for overcoming technical and social hurdles. Each team was given six minutes to present its design. Jimma teams competed via pre-recorded videos and answered judges’ questions live via Skype. A live broadcast at JIT’s Presidents Auditorium also allowed students in Ethiopia to view the competition and awards ceremony in real time.

“All the judges for the competition are drawn from outside of Rice,” Leautaud said. “This year we had 15 clinicians, engineers and researchers from across the Texas Medical Center, the University of Houston and Texas State University at San Marcos. We also had global health clinicians from Austin and Frisco, Texas, and one judge from the U.S. Agency for International Development.”

Leautaud said there were also five judges from the diagnostic and biomedical device industry, including representatives from companies and nonprofits such as D-Rev, PATH and Becton Dickinson, which have a strong track record in global health.

The keynote address, “Congratulations, Your Prototype Works! Now What?”, was delivered by Randy Schwemmin, director of technical operations at San Francisco-based nonprofit D-Rev. D-Rev delivers products to improve the health and increase the income of people who live on less than $4 a day. Schwemmin offered insights about how the student-designers could take the next step in getting their products into widespread use.

The best poster award went to Rice’s own Team ResVolution for its smartphone-based multispectral and panoramic microscope. The people’s choice award went to the University of Wisconsin’s Team Algo Cerv for its innovative app to interpret cervical cancer biopsies.


About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.