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3 health solutions come out on top in Pitt competition

| Monday, May 19, 2014, 11:44 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Samay Jain (left), assistant professor of neurology, has Karl Mormer demonstrate SPark during the first-ever Pitt Innovation Challenge in Oakland on Monday, May 19, 2014. They are using a Parkinson's Disease-focused app that supports patients independence as they try to win $100,00.

Three projects promising to treat pressure wounds, monitor Parkinson's symptoms and support smoking cessation were awarded $100,000 grants and project managers as winners of the University of Pittsburgh's Innovation Challenge, dubbed PInCh.

Competitors were asked in January how they would empower individuals to take control of their own health outcomes by harnessing obvious, everyday frustrations.

Solutions could include a device, software application, intervention strategy or any other approach that could address the health problem the team identifies, physician and contest manager Steve Reis said. More than 90 competitors submitted two-minute videos to introduce team members, define a health problem and outline a creative solution.

At Pitt's University Club on Monday, 10 finalists presented projects ranging from mobile nutrition tools to calibrated safety belts for seniors to a panel of judges, who announced the winners.

QuitNinja team member Ellen Beckjord, 36, of Regent Square helped design a smoking cessation support system. Research will be step one, she said.

“It's awesome,” Beckjord said. “I'm taking tomorrow off, and we'll get going first thing Thursday.”

Funding will begin on July 1, organizers said.

SPark, developed in part by Samay Jain, 39, of Regent Square, is a smartphone app designed to mimic a round-the-clock caregiver through motion sensor technology.

“So if you have Parkinson's and doctors prescribe you a medication, the motion sensors will be able to carefully detect tremors and tell you objectively how you're doing.”

Bioengineer Yadong Wang, 45, said up to 50 percent of the funding team Sealion receives will go toward product development and setting up clinical trials. If all goes well, the team's advanced bandages will be available in a hospital setting, he said.

Three other teams aiming to decrease hospital readmissions, help teens with sexual health questions and improve prescription compliance took home $25,000 awards.

The competition was sponsored by Pitt's Clinical and Translational Science Institute in collaboration with the university's Office of the Provost and the Innovation Institute.

Megan Harris is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-388-5815 or

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