Three WBP Hackathon projects with the potential to change lives

 In Articles, WBP Forum

By the Hackathon team

The beginning of this year saw the launch and successful completion of the Women’s Brain Project’s first hackathon. The goal of the hackathon was to advance the understanding of sex and gender characteristics in brain and mental diseases and leverage them for improved solutions, through teamwork and innovation. The competition kicked off on January 15, and lasted five weeks, with the final presentations taking place February 21.

The three projects covered the rich area defined by the intersection of precision medicine with sex and gender and artificial intelligence. We had participants from all over the world – from California, to Italy, to Switzerland, to Indonesia, and beyond. The collaborators also came from multiple academic levels: from PhD students to professionals, and also several gifted high school members of the World Economic Forum’s Knowledge Society.

In addition, we had five mentors from an interesting range of backgrounds: two professors, one innovation leader, one entrepreneurship expert, and an experienced professional from the biomedical industry – all women. Our thanks to Samantha Paoletti, Laura Furlong, Laia Subirats, Virginia Schumacher and Piera Marongiu.

The hackathon was structured around team communication on Slack, as well at least weekly meetings with the mentors. Weekly reports were provided, and a final report was submitted up to two days before the final presentation. The teams were formed on the basis of interest in the general areas of the mentors, skills, as well as preferences, and the topics were chosen by the team members in coordination with their mentors.

The first chosen topic was the customization of organ-on-a-chip techniques in order to accommodate sex differences. Organ-on-a-chip is a cutting-edge innovation enabling in-vitro pre-clinical testing while physically simulating through utilization of cells the environment of specific organs, such as the liver or the lungs.

After doing background research on the state-of-the-art, the team also created a questionnaire that was administered to 38 subjects, aimed at assessing their knowledge, opinions and preferences towards the sex-specific organ-on-a-chip research. Furthermore, the team also create an infographic poster “fact sheet” that can effectively communicate their topic and increase awareness.

The second topic was “Decreasing Gender Bias in how ADHD is diagnosed”. The work carried out by the team included extensive background research and review on Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), covering not only the interaction of ADHD with female hormones as well as the importance of digital biomarkers, but also extensive genetic analysis focusing on dopamine-related genes.

Most importantly, the team also created a very detailed prototype of an innovative mobile app, including mock-up screens and interaction scenarios, that could provide immense benefits, using innovative behavioral and other techniques. They also did stakeholder mapping, and produced a very informative infographic poster regarding their topic.

The third team decided to focus on maternal mental health. Initially they considered the potential utilization of social media in order to analyze topic-related posts, and then created a design for an application with the purpose of alleviating mental health symptoms specific to the perinatal period that could prove beneficial to a very large number of women globally, as well as to their families.

The teams brought a wide variety of skills that allowed them not only to perform background literature search and review-writing, but also questionnaire design and analysis, stakeholder analysis, planning for raising public awareness and alleviating misconceptions, mobile app mock-up screen and interaction design, as well as data-science related tasks.  A wide range of disciplines ranging from biology to genetics to medicine to psychology and mental health, as well as AI, IT and app design and beyond were involved.

As one participant Liesl Anggijono said: “I got to learn from my mentors and really dive deep. For us to come together from all these different countries around the world is such a great opportunity. It was amazing.”

The outcomes of the hackathon were multiple: not only learning for all; but also bonding, creating long-lasting relationships that will provide future synergies, and most importantly, the creation of real-life actions that are not only worthy in their own right, but could also well act as seeds to be grown into much more extensive and impactful projects.


Precision medicine

Through the Women’s Brain Project network, the teams intend to continue their efforts towards potentially creating real mobile apps, scientific papers, real awareness and advocacy campaigns and even organizations. This will make it possible for the hackathon to have lasting impact.

The aim is that, by taking into account not only the similarities but also the particular differences between the two sexes, and tailoring our diagnostic, treatment, and support techniques to each, we can come closer to the dream of truly personalized precision medicine. This will improve wellbeing, health and healthcare provision for an ever-growing subset of the world’s population, towards a sustainable healthcare model. We believe the hackathon will contribute to a better world for all, through science, technology, empathy and global collaboration for all.

Congratulations to all the WBP 2021 hackathon participants: Antonia Silvestri, PhD, Giovanna Brancanti, Sakeenah Ajayi, Jasmine Wang, Simone Lilavois, Neema Balolebwami Nelly, Sarah Jiang, Liesl Anggijono, Anna Heck, Jessica Song, Meera Singhal, Sarah Gregory, PhD, Jessica Gong and Nisha Lerdsuwanrut.


The hackathon was organised by Simona Mellino, Guido Putignano, Andrea Tognon, Davide Cirillo and Nikolaos Mavridis.



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