Crossing disciplines to plug healthcare gaps

Prof Tan (far right) on stage with several members from Paper Breath (from left:) Leong Xue Hao from NUSMedicine; Poh Yong Rui from NUS Science; Gui Chuanhao from NUS Medicine; and Natalie

The year-long Medical Grand Challenge (MGC) 2018, an initiative led by students from NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS Medicine), concluded on 14 September, with Team Paper Breath sweeping the first prize for their novel and non-invasive idea of diagnosing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a life-threatening medical condition affecting people with diabetes, through patients’ breath.

Fourteen multidisciplinary teams comprising 67 NUS students from various schools and faculties — Medicine, Business, Computing, Dentistry, Engineering, Science and the Graduate School for Integrative Sciences and Engineering — participated in the second edition of the Challenge. Several workshops helped the students to fine-tune their products, where they also learnt about analysing new medical devices and gained an insight into the procedures for patents.

Co-President of the MGC 2018 and Year 1 NUS Medicine student Lim Jia Ying shared the rationale behind the competition, saying, “I want to help encourage a culture of creativity and innovation among our peers and provide them with a platform to bring their ideas to life.”

The Medical Grand Challenge…encourages our students from different disciplines and natures from across NUS to engage in collaboration, exploration and innovation.

NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye, who graced the Challenge Finale Night as Guest-of-Honour, said that the MGC embodied the inspiring and transformational education experience that NUS wanted for its students. “The Medical Grand Challenge…encourages our students from different disciplines and natures from across NUS to engage in collaboration, exploration and innovation,” he said. The greater objective is to shape and improve the future of healthcare in Singapore, he added.

Team Paper Breath, which was rewarded with a prize of $20,000, consisted of three medical students and one each from NUS Business and NUS Science. Team member Natalie Aw, a Year 2 NUS Medicine student, said that they had earlier discarded the ideas of testing for colorectal cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease due to the challenging nature of obtaining clinical samples. “Diabetic ketoacidosis is life-threatening and we didn’t have anything that could detect it early”, she explained of the team’s decision in the end. Their winning proposal featured a test strip that rapidly detects the presence of high acetone in the breath, a sign of DKA.


Glenys from AnyWear with the group’s innovative device


The seven-member team behind AnyWear, which won second place and a prize of $15,000, wanted to offer a wider range of clothes to patients. By cutting a portion of a garment and immediately attaching Velcro onto the cut, AnyWear offers a quick way of converting a cherished piece of clothing into an item that can be easily worn by patients. Buttons, for example, can be left permanently buttoned with the patient only needing to fasten the Velcro to wear a piece of clothing.

Said team member Glenys Poon, a Year 4 NUS Medicine student, “Working on this project as well as talking to physiotherapists, occupational therapists and patients have made me see the impact that small things can have on a patient’s life,” she shared.


Slide-Easy, which won third place and $10,000, is the brainchild of six NUS students — three from Medicine, two from Engineering and one from Dentistry. Year 2 NUS Medicine student Sarvananthan Rajragavan shared the team’s key takeaway — innovation did not have to be complicated. “A simple idea which solves a very important problem is good enough,” he said. An important problem the team found was that eight out of the nine nurses they spoke to at National University Hospital suffered from lower back pain, which led them to develop a sliding board that could be attached to a wheelchair for nurses and caregivers to more easily transfer patients between wheelchairs and beds.

The teams were assessed by a panel of judges for impact, business strategy, creativity, innovation and feasibility of bringing the idea to the marketplace.