Second place came from Mohamad Najia, Shriya Srinivasan, Randall Briggs and Eric VanWyk from Harvard-MIT Health Sciences & Technology, with their entry entitled: “Real-time, rapid blood coagulation monitor for low-resource setting.”
Convergence Research is not only developing cutting edge medical treatments but also extending healthcare to rural communities. An example of the latter is Mohamad Naja’s team, based at Harvard and MIT, which is building a mobile device to monitor blood coagulation among residents of under served communities.
Blood makes up seven percent of an individual’s body weight. In a day, the average human will pump 2,000 gallons of blood through roughly 60,000 miles of blood vessels. Throughout its circular migration, blood has a seemingly paradoxical job—it must flow smoothly through the body but quickly solidify or coagulate to form a clot when running through an open wound. Blood that does not coagulate leads to a hemorrhage or uncontrolled blood loss, while blood that clots too easily will block off blood vessels and cause strokes.
For patients with blood clotting disorders, recovering from surgery, or enduring chronic cancer management, using the proper amount of medicine to balance bleeding and clotting is a precarious life or death endeavor. “The limitation with conventional lab tests,” Mohamad Naja explains, “is that they require a venous blood draw, which force patients to have the test done in a hospital setting, which is not always feasible in rural communities. On the other hand, current self-monitoring devices are very expensive and rely on external resources like batteries and external power sources that are not always available.”
Naja has been visiting the Edendale Hospital in the KwaZuzu-Natal province of South Africa. “Ednedale Hospital,” Naja says, “like many rural hospitals in South Africa, serves patients within a three hour driving radius. Commuting to these hospitals is not only inconvenient but also constitutes a significant portion of the overall patient medical expense.”
To serve rural populations, Naja’s team designed a portable device that is powered by a smartphone audio jack. “Since 70% of the population in Kenya and 90% of the population in South Africa have access to smartphones, we don’t think the dependence of our device on a smartphone will limit adoption,” says Naja. A patient using Naja’s coagulation monitor would place a few drops of blood in a well-chamber above the smartphone and wait while the phone measures the amount of light scattering from the clotting blood sample. Since free-flowing blood and clotted blood have different reflective properties, the coagulation monitor can measure how long it takes for a patient’s blood sample to clot and translate that time to a clinical metric used to adjust medication dosing.
Naja’s team is currently evaluating prototypes by running tests on discarded blood samples from Massachusetts General Hospital. They also traveled to Durban, South Africa in June to gather initial patient feedback on their latest model.
Naja’s team is a Convergence success story but having a diverse team of scientists does not guarantee results. “I think the most common reason why interdisciplinary teams fail is because everyone on the team has unique skill sets and consequently individuals abdicate any work that does not involve their expertise,” says Mohammad Naha. “We as a team were different from the start of the project in that we created a collective knowledge base that allowed us to learn very quickly different skills and navigate the scientific literature of various fields. We all learned from each other, which I think was more beneficial than each team member working in siloes on subsets of the overall project.”