23 Oct, 2020

Strokes (cerebrovascular events, or CVAs) are among the most devastating medical conditions in humans, but in many cases, they can be prevented. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is halted or reduced, preventing brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients. Brain cells begin to die in minutes. 

The two main types of stroke

As it is a medical emergency, speedy treatment is crucial. Early action can reduce brain damage and other complications. There are two main types of stroke – ischemic, due to lack of blood flow, and hemorrhagic, the result of bleeding in the brain. Both cause parts of the brain to stop functioning properly.

Stroke symptoms include an inability to move or feel on one side of the body, problems understanding or speakingdizziness or loss of vision to one side. hemorrhagic stroke may also be associated with a severe headache.

Prevention includes decreasing risk factors

People with various medical conditions and habits are at high risk for a stroke – those who smoke, suffer from hypertension, obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, end-stage kidney disease, and atrial fibrillation

Prevention includes decreasing risk factors and surgery to open up the arteries to the brain in those with problematic narrowing of the carotid artery to the brain. 

MedHacks – a hackathon for developing medical technologies

Now, a team of students from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and the University of Missouri in the US has won second place at MedHacks – a hackathon for developing medical technologies hosted by Johns Hopkins University. They were awarded for developing the Scan&Sound application, which detects strokes at early stages and alerts the victims.

Sean Heilbronn-Doron (Technion)

MedHacks is the largest hackathon in the US for developing medical technologies. This year, more than 1,000 people participated, including students, doctors, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs from all over the world. The event was a collaboration between Johns Hopkins University and MLH-Major League Hacking, which organizes hundreds of student hackathons every year and was funded by various entities, including Google Cloud.

The Scan&Sound team consists of four Technion students and alumni: Hadas Braude, a 6th-year student in the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine; Sean Heilbronn-Doron, a fourth-year student in the faculty; Shunit Polinsky, a master’s-degree student in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering; and Ron Liraz, an alumnus who received a master’s degree from the Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering. The fifth student on the team was Leeore Levinstein, a third-year medical student at the University of Missouri. 

The different levels of stroke severity

One in four people in the US undergoes a stroke at some point in their lives. There are many different levels of severity, ranging from a stroke that one is not even aware of experiencing to an event that results in serious cognitive and motor impairmentsand even death. In addition to personal harm, strokes also incur enormous financial expenses for the individual, the health system and the country. As a result, there is a great deal of motivation to develop methods to identify strokes at the early stages when treatment is more effective. 

Scan&Sound won second place in the “Personalized Medicine Using Data-Driven Healthcare” category. The application detects early, subtle stages of stroke by studying voices and facial expressions and analyzing the data using artificial intelligence. If there is a significant change, the application alerts the user that he/she is suffering from symptoms that may indicate a stroke and suggests a call to predetermined contacts or an emergency call center. 

Keeping them up at night

Braude, who headed the group, proposed the idea after someone close to her suffered a stroke. On the day it happened, the person met with friends and family, who immediately noticed that something was wrong. They did not, however, suspect a stroke.

“As a result,” said Braude, “the man arrived at the hospital late and missed the ‘treatment window.’ Since then, I haven’t stopped thinking about how to prevent the next incident and have asked myself how it can be possible that the telephone that is always with us gathers information about us, but cannot detect and warn that something is wrong with us.”

Braude and Heilbronn-Doron met before this round of competition when they competed together in the T2Med hackathon hosted by the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine. Following their win there, the two registered for MedHacks and invited Liraz, a talented and experienced electrical engineer they met at T2Med, to join them. In classic Israeli fashion, the two other members of the unique and diverse trans-Atlantic Scan&Sound team arrived through personal and family contacts.

Meeting their goal through effective communication

The hackathon itself was very challenging. Besides the physical distance, the members of the team had to contend with the time difference between Israel and the US, as well as navigating classes and other prior commitments. They were able to meet their goal through effective communication, planning, determination, division of labor and, most importantly, through each member’s personal commitment to the project.

The judges at the competition were very impressed with their project. The team stressed the project’s true goal is to enable people to get treatment in time and to safeguard brains, identities and lives. This is, in fact, the motivation that inspired them to establish a technological team and to create partnerships with neurological departments and rehabilitation centers in Israel and the US,