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MIT to host virtual Beat Pandemic II Hackathon with focus on predicting, preventing and preparing

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Deadline to apply is Tuesday, May 26

Cambridge, Mass., May 22, 2020— As many areas move past peak infection rates, how can communities and organizations safely and effectively manage a ‘new normal’? How can populations best arm themselves against a resurgence of infection? And how can responses become quicker and more effective in the event of a second wave of COVID-19?

Beat the Pandemic II is a 48-hour virtual hackathon aimed at addressing the pressing issues arising from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

On May 29-May 31, MIT will host Beat the Pandemic II, a 48-hour virtual hackathon aimed at addressing these pressing issues and others arising from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Open to the public, those interested in taking part are welcome to apply before noon on Tuesday, May 26.

This virtual event follows on the heels of a first Beat the Pandemic Hackathon held in early April. Part of a larger MIT COVID-19 Challenge series, earlier hackathons also included IDEAthon, Africa Takes On COVID-19, and Datathon.

On May 29, participants will hone in on key problems and generate solutions, including proof of concepts, prototypes, and preliminary vision for execution. On May 31, teams will reconvene to present their work. After the weekend, the teams judged as having the most promising ideas will have the opportunity to co-develop and implement their solutions with the support of collaborators.

Teams that participated in the earlier Beat the Pandemic hackathon will join a separate track designed to further accelerate their efforts. One such team, wePool, sought to address the challenge of enabling mass testing in a cost-effective and rapid manner. Team members are Guillermo Siman, MIT Sloan MBA 2022; Yash Patil, Operations & Data Analytics Researcher at Florida Institute of Technology; and Smrithi Sunil, Biomedical Engineering PhD candidate at Boston University.

Brainstorming over the weekend with the help of volunteer mentors and judges, wePool landed on a solution: pooling of testing samples in which samples from multiple subjects are mixed and run as a single test. If the mixed sample returns negative, all samples must be negative. If the mixed result is positive, then the individuals in the pool will need to be tested separately.

While the idea of pooling samples itself is not new—the method has been used in Israel and Germany, and a recent study was conducted on pooling samples at Stanford's Clinical Virology Laboratory—wePool sought to take the method a step further by implementing machine learning techniques to intelligently segment subjects and reduce the chances of getting a positive hit within a pool of otherwise negative tests.

According to wePool’s simulations, this method would allow clinics to save 40% of test kits while preserving 96% specificity in testing. Their presentation piqued the interest of hackathon mentors, participants, and partner organizations alike. Now, wePool is taking their idea further with the help of the MIT COVID-19 Challenge sponsors. The team expects that their solution will have broad applications both for the ongoing pandemic and afterwards.

“I had never been too interested in entrepreneurship,” says Guillermo. “But this entire process thus far has been so exciting, the response to our initiative so encouraging, and the potential for having a positive impact on this unprecedented crisis so compelling, that it has encouraged me and my team to follow through as a continuing team. It has opened my eyes to the world of entrepreneurship & new ventures.”

“Our mission through the MIT COVID-19 Challenge is rapid innovation from ideation to implementation targeting the most critical issues that have arisen from the COVID-19 crisis,” says Freddy Nguyen, an event organizer, Arnold O. Beckman Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT, and a Pathology Resident at Mount Sinai Hospital. “From the initial virtual hackathons through our follow-on events and support to the teams, we are empowering a new generation of problem-solvers as we build and strengthen this community of innovators and entrepreneurs towards this common cause.”

For more on Beat the Pandemic II and for a list of sponsors, please visit: https://covid19challenge.mit.edu/