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Hacking for health

November 08, 2019

At Brain Health Hack, student teams combine their diverse skills to dream up new ways to heal brain injuries.

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Jack Rubertus’ experience in Ohio State’s 2018 Brain Health Hack provided a roadmap to success in the 2019 competition. It all hinged on recruiting a team loaded with diverse skills to tackle a project that could improve a therapy method for years to come.

In one whirlwind March weekend, Rubertus’ team, dubbed “VrNS” (a play on virtual reality and vagus nerve stimulation), built a virtual reality game to help stroke patients rehabilitate motor skills, memory and cognition for faster recovery. The vagus nerve connects the brain to the body.

For their efforts, the audience of students, Ohio State faculty and representatives from the health care and tech industry awarded the VrNS team the Open Challenge title, one of three top prizes that earned them a ticket to present their project at the national Brain Health and Performance Summit.

Click the dots to learn what each team member brought to the table.

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From Vetter’s engineering background to Patel’s pharmacy studies and Rubertus’ understanding of neuroscience, this single project illustrates how combined skillsets and talents can heal in creative ways. And it’s a common thread through all the teams at the annual Brain Health Hack.

“A variety of backgrounds provides a holistic approach,” Rubertus said. “This is very important when it comes to the medical field because patients and doctors come from numerous backgrounds. It is important to work together as a team in order to achieve the ultimate goal of keeping a patient healthy.”

The VrNS project is receiving a provisional patent for additional research and advancement. Rubertus and his team believe their device can also be adapted for therapies involving other traumatic brain injuries.

Each spring, Ohio State students form multidisciplinary teams for the Brain Health Hack competition at The Ohio State University James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. The teams include students majoring in everything from computer science to neuroscience to psychology, among many others.
Each team has only three days to imagine, build and demonstrate a technological tool that can improve the health and wellness of patients suffering from a traumatic brain injury. On the final day of competition, the teams present their devices to a panel of judges that includes Ohio State faculty and representatives from the health care and tech industries.
The VrNS team won the Open Challenge for their project, which combined virtual reality with vagus nerve stimulation to improve motor skill function in post-stroke rehabilitation. Following the weekend, the project received a provisional patent to be funded for additional research and advancement.
Brain Health Hack teams put in long hours and late nights during the March weekend at The James. Once it’s over, judges award the teams in a variety categories that range from Best Teamwork to Best Technical to “Very Wow.”
The 119 team – led by Jen Schlegel, a senior biomedical engineering major – was the Challenge 2 winner for an app that helps provide appropriate emergency medical response to an individual with a traumatic brain injury or chronically occurring health problem. Schlegel’s teammates included George Oshiotse, a neuroscience major, and Muyuan Li, a communications major.