Student team wins $10,000 for Alzheimer’s disease diagnostic tool

Memento, an interdisciplinary team of Washington University in St. Louis undergraduate, graduate and medical students, has won $10,000 in a national competition for their mobile app designed to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease more quickly.
Two members of the Memento team (above) have lost family members to Alzheimer’s disease.
The team is one of 10 finalists for the Student Technology Prize for Primary Healthcare, awarded by the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Ambulatory Practice of the Future and sponsored by the Gelfand Family Charitable Trust. The competition awards $10,000 to each of 10 finalists to continue work on the project. In September, it will award $50,000, $100,000 and $150,000 to the top three projects, respectively.

The Student Technology Prize for Primary Healthcare competition encourages engineering students to direct their creative skills toward the unique needs of primary care through improved technologies, instrumentation, devices or systems.

To receive a formal Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, patients must be referred from their primary-care physicians to a neurologist. However, due to significant backlog, patients and their families may wait from several months to one year for an appointment, during which time a patient’ disease could rapidly progress.

To help shorten this process, the WashU team developed a mobile app to be completed by the patient’s caregiver to help a primary-care physician more accurately determine whether a patient needs to be referred to a neurologist for additional testing and diagnosis.

“The app replaces the 45 minutes of time spent by the physician interviewing the caregiver while simultaneously trying to scribble notes and answer the caregiver’s questions,” said Allen Osgood, co-lead of the team and a rising senior majoring in computer science in the School of Engineering & Applied Science. “By working through the app in advance, we give the physician, caregiver and patient more time to focus on the potential diagnosis and outcomes.”

The team is motivated by personal reasons: Two members of the Memento team have lost family members to Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our main goal is to accelerate the diagnostic process so that patients and families can get the support and information they need,” Osgood said.

In addition to the mobile app, Memento is developing an objective cognitive assessment. The team is working with neurologists in the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the School of Medicine, as well as the St. Louis chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, on both aspects of its work and is preparing for a future clinical trial.

Co-leading the team with Osgood is Robert Chen, an MD/PhD student at the School of Medicine. Other team members include three additional Engineering students: Henry Morris and Matt Kramer, both majoring in biomedical engineering, and Rob Osorio, majoring in computer science; Mary Morgan Scott, a medical student; Hannah Bucklin, an MD/PhD student, and two May 2016 graduates: Dana Arditti, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and Jenny Liu, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in neuroscience.

WashU Engineering students have previously been successful in this competition. In 2015, doctoral student Xinyu (David) Song won the $100,000 second-place prize, as well as $10,000 as a finalist for developing an automated hearing test available to primary-care physicians.

In 2013, Andrew Brimer and Abigail Cohen won the $150,000 first place prize for their low-cost spirometer, which is now offered through their company, SparoLabs.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 90 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, more than 900 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.