Hacking Health: Turning knowledge into digital healthcare solutions

Hacking Health: Turning knowledge into digital healthcare solutions

We are lucky to be a part of today’s growing knowledge economy, which fosters collaboration and connection locally, nationally and globally to co-create innovative solutions to life’s problems that a single person or entity may not be able to derive alone. Knowledge is learning, caring and sharing, and it is how we use knowledge that will stimulate a more prosperous province, nation and world.

Hacking Health is the perfect example. It is a medium for bringing together people who have different educational backgrounds and functional expertise, but who also share a passion for ameliorating health in some way. Participants join forces to turn their respective knowledge into tangible digital healthcare solutions. So far, Hacking Health rallies have taken place in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, New York City, Stockholm and Strasbourg, among other locations.

The following are two very different project success stories whose journeys both included an important encounter with Hacking Health.

1) LongStory, Toronto, Ontario

Bloom Digital’s LongStory is a refreshing simulated take on teenage life with a focus on one of youth’s major afflictions: dating. The protagonist was made a female high school student to appeal to the under-served 42% of girls who make up the global gaming audience, largely nine to 14 years old. However, the character was made more or less ambiguous, so as not to exclude the male gamer demographic.

LongStory captivates its audience with an interactive puzzle game, while also attempting to subtly shed light on under-addressed issues surrounding mental illness, social anxiety, addiction, the Internet, dating (and Internet dating), sexuality, bullying and sexual harassment.

The protagonist is forced to confront social challenges and make life-altering decisions to solve the mysterious disappearance of her locker’s previous occupant. An interlocking side story allows you to pursue five dateable characters, including the absent, virtual girlfriend and the overzealous football player without the talent to back up his passions. LongStory even has a bully—in this case, a three-girl posse called Hanniferjane that emphasizes the tendency for bullies to intimidate by numbers.

LongStory gives young teens the chance to role play and confront new scenarios that reflect their own realities, but in a safe environment.

Eventually to be released as an episodic story game on iOS, Android, Mac and PC, LongStory is so far a partial-episode playable pilot that has been tested by partners Planned Parenthood Toronto and Centennial College, as well as by the public at Fan Expo Canada. The game will be subject to more test runs in November at Dames Making Games Toronto and WordPlay. LongStory is planning to launch its first official episode in spring 2014. Currently, the LongStory team is formulating business partnerships to strategize and implement the marketing and distribution of the game’s  debut as well as funding for future episodes. Check out the trailer here.

2) GENtle2, Montreal, Quebec

Synbiota Inc. is a web-based biotechnology platform that facilitates collaboration and knowledge-sharing between people around the world to create solutions in medicine, food, fuel and materials. The platform allows users to create and manage projects and teams, store data, and track project process, intellectual property and user metrics. Synbiota researchers can do all this using either open science or secure research models

Synbiota’s mission is to leverage the power of the global community to catalyze life science research and development, and to cut down associated costs by using tools accessible on a universal scale, including their GENtle2, an open-source DNA design web app.

GENtle2 builds off of a free software tool developed by Magnus Manske, a researcher at the Sanger Institute and original creator of the software that drives Wikipedia. With GENtle2, users can manipulate DNA as if it were text or a program code. Once a DNA construct has been designed, users can then use Synbiota to order the creation of a real DNA molecule matching their design.

“It’s like 3D printing, but instead of printing out a plastic model, researchers receive a real DNA molecule that can then be inserted into a living organism, reprogramming its function to do something new,” says Connor Dickie, CEO, Synbiota Inc. “For example, researchers often reprogram yeast, typically used to create beer and wine, to do new things like create insulin, biodiesel fuel or even ink.”

Synbiota received a Mozilla fellowship following GENtle2’s launch at Mozilla headquarters last year. While it is still early days for GENtle2, Synbiota continues to develop and leverage the global open-source community to advance open-source, web-based synthetic biology tools.

How Hacking Health brought these companies to life

For both these companies, Hacking Health was a large part of their venture journey. For Miriam Verburg, partner of Bloom Digital Media and the producer of LongStory, Hacking Health Toronto 2012 was the beginning of her story (pun intended). She attracted an ad hoc group of individuals, from a doctor to various web, game and graphic designers, with her one-minute concept pitch on Day 1 of the event. Many of the original Hacking Health team members remain mentors for LongStory to this day.

Miriam and her partner/co-producer, Elysse Zarek, received a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grant from Centennial College, which enabled Bloom Digital to hire Centennial faculty and students to work full-time on the LongStory project over the past four months. They are currently looking for their next round of funding, including their application to ideaBOOST.

For Connor and the Synbiota team, Hacking Health Toronto 2012 and Vancouver 2013 served as the perfect stage of introduction to Canada’s healthcare initiatives, and to learn about how Synbiota can contribute to making healthcare in Canada, better, faster and cheaper.

I cannot wait to see what comes out of this year’s Hacking Health Toronto, which is happening November 8 to 10, 2013!