Johns Hopkins Hackathon Draws Innovative Solutions for Zika Virus

Mapping a city to detect Zika mosquito hotspots. Fashion accessories infused with a long-acting mosquito repellant. A special soap that keeps mosquitos away. Those are among the winning ideas from a Johns Hopkins University hackathon that drew participants from Baltimore to Brazil looking for ways to help prevent the spread of the Zika virus.

Johns Hopkins’ Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design and Jhpiego, a global health non-profit and university affiliate, convened the weekend Emergency Zika Design Challenge with a single, strategic focus: to come up with innovative ideas “to prevent disease through protection from mosquito bites.”

Cases of mosquito-borne Zika virus infection in Latin America and the Caribbean have been associated with microcephaly in infants born to women infected during pregnancy and Guillian-Barre syndrome in adults. On Feb. 1, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a global health emergency, estimating that 4 million people worldwide will be infected by year’s end.

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact has encouraged research universities such as Johns Hopkins to join the fight against Zika virus as many did during the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014.

Like their response to the Ebola crisis, CBID and Jhpiego organized the Design Challenge to galvanize the best and the brightest across the Johns Hopkins community to come up with new, promising ideas to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and save lives. As many as 80 percent of people infected with Zika virus will show no symptoms. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus or antiretroviral treatment.

Protection against mosquito-borne diseases includes use of insect repellant, sleeping under treated bed nets and eliminating breeding areas for mosquitos.

During the Johns Hopkins hackathon, biomedical engineers, scientists, global health specialists and students-among them a group from a Baltimore area girls school-joined with public health experts from Brazil, the Armed Forces Pest Management Board and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Invasive Insects Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory to brainstorm new ways to prevent mosquito bites and motivate the public to protect themselves.

Among the top ideas to emerge:
• A surveillance system to map mosquito hotspots in a city to empower communities to take action and clean up their neighborhoods and to assist public officials in identifying areas to spray for mosquitos and better target resources;
• Culturally appropriate fashion accessories that emit a long-acting mosquito repellant;
• A soap dubbed “Never Will Bite” that repels mosquitos and can be used on the skin or to wash clothes, an idea that incorporates a repellant into a normal daily routine;
• Zikvoid, a banner that emits mosquito repellant and can be used at sporting events; it is part of a kit that would also include a personal spray, a larvicide and an information packet that could be given to pregnant women during health visits.

“This is just the start,” said Youseph Yazdi, executive director of CBID and a co-organizer of the hackathon. “Every team had kernels of great ideas, but they need more refinement. Jhpiego will be providing the resources for the next three months for the teams to get together and refine their ideas.”

CBID operates within the Johns Hopkins Department of Biomedical Engineering, which is shared by the university’s Whiting School of Engineering and its School of Medicine.

Harshad Sanghvi, Jhpiego’s vice president of innovations and chief medical officer, encouraged hackathon participants to think globally because mosquito-borne diseases are not restricted to Zika virus or to Latin America. “All of us have a responsibility to figure out a solution. We are committed to find that solution,” he said.

Source: Johns Hopkins University