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Tufts team advances to finals of Microsoft U.S. Imagine Cup

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012

Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012 08:04

A group of four undergraduate Tufts computer science students, Team Eos, last month reached the final round of the 2012 Microsoft U.S. Imagine Cup in the Software Design competition.

The team, comprised of seniors Greg Wong, Jason Cheng and Sean Chung and junior Xihan Zhang, developed a mobile service, Medivise, which automates the monitoring process for tuberculosis patients.

“Basically, [Medivise] sends out text message medication reminders to patients every day so that they’ll adhere to their medical treatments,” Cheng said. “A really big problem with a disease like tuberculosis is that patients are not following their medicine treatments, and that causes problems like resistance to antibiotics and relapses back to tuberculosis.”

The Microsoft U.S. Imagine Cup is a biannual competition with categories including software design, game design and Internet technology. The first−place team will receive $6,000, a $10,000 donation to its school and the opportunity to compete in the Worldwide Finals in Australia, Wong said.

Team Eos travels to Seattle this week to compete against the nine other finalists in its category, according to Cheng.

“We have to pitch the final version of our software to a panel of judges, and then they decide who’s going to win,” Cheng said. “The finals will be a first start to find any investors or anyone who’s interested in our service.”

Another aspect of the competition is the People’s Choice, where anyone can vote for his or her favorite team through May 19 on the Imagine Cup Facebook page or by texting the team name to 45444, Chung explained. The team with the most votes will also advance to the Worldwide Finals.

“I feel like the important part of this competition is not the monetary award, but the publicity you can get for your service,” Chung said. “Because we’re going to the finals and presenting, people can drop by and check out our project.”

The service aims to supervise patients in a more cost−effective way that keeps a detailed record of the patient’s treatment history for the medical staff, Cheng explained.

“The medical staff can look to see when the patient missed a treatment,” Cheng said. “From there they can decide what other actions to take to help the patient and cure their tuberculosis.”

Tuberculosis treatment is a process that lasts at least six months, which makes it easy for patients to forget to take their drugs at scheduled intervals, Chung said.

“We’re not researching a new drug, but we’re trying to facilitate something that should happen in the first place,” Chung said. “Because of human factors, like [when] the patient thinks that he’s better already, there are so many tuberculosis deaths every year. We’re just trying to eliminate that human factor.”

The theme for this year’s competition is “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems,” according to the Imagine Cup website. Teams were invited to address one of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals, one of which is combating major diseases, Wong said.

The team decided to focus on the administration of tuberculosis treatment after they saw statistics stating that 1.4 million people died from the disease in 2010, Wong added.

“When you look at it like that, it’s sort of overwhelming and paralyzing,” Wong said. “You really start to think about what can you do, and it’s really easy to just start thinking that it’s got nothing to do with me. But the truth is, I think we can do something to help.”

The team members worked for less than two months to finish Medivise by the mid−March deadline. The judges then selected them for the final round based on the team’s submission of a project plan, a working prototype of the Medivise software and a video describing the service, Cheng said.

“The scheduling is really compact,” Cheng said. “It was a lot of stuff to do, to do the design, research tuberculosis and make sure we were getting the statistics right. Also, when we were building it, we had to think in terms of the user so that the medical staff would actually want to use it.”

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