Five ideas scoop prizes in science challenge tackling opioid crisis

Winners at the global technology challenge in Ohio were selected from hundreds of ideas submitted by researchers, caregivers, service providers and individuals from Ohio, other states and nine countries.

Each will receive 10,000 dollars (£7,000) to take their idea to the next phase.

The eight million dollar (£5.67 million) Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge is modelled after the Head Health competition launched by the NFL, Under Armour and GE to address traumatic brain injuries sustained playing football.

It is part of a two-pronged strategy Ohio is pursuing against the deadly epidemic tied to prescription painkillers. It has also awarded 10 million dollars (£7 million) in research and development grants.

Forty runners-up — 20 civilians and 20 technical professionals or experts — will also be entered into a draw to win 500 dollar (£355) cash prizes.

The efforts, spearheaded by Republican governor John Kasich, were recognised in a US state among the hardest hit by the deadly opioid epidemic. There were 4,050 overdose deaths in Ohio in 2016, many linked to heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

The winners were:

:: Judson Brewer (Worcester, Massachusetts) was awarded 10,000 dollars for a digital therapy centred on the psychological theory of mindfulness, which will extend ideas contained in his nationally-known Craving To Quit programme towards tackling opioid addiction.

:: Kinametechs LLC (Cincinnati, Ohio) was commended for an augmented reality-based interactive coaching system resembling glasses proposed by Yong Pei and the Kinametechs team. This would use motion tracking to customise a surgical patient’s physical rehabilitation routine once they arrive home from hospital, reducing their demand for opioid painkillers. “It’s like an expert sitting right in the glasses,” Yong Pei said in an interview.

:: Lee Barrus (Oren, Utah) was recognised for an opioid risk assessment screening app suggested by the team at InteraSolutions to identify patients with risk factors for opioid abuse. The idea is to enable medical professionals to flag at-risk patients earlier and direct them to alternatives to opioids for fighting pain.

:: The Edification Project (Boston, Massachusetts) scooped a prize for the use of virtual reality technology focused on preventing addiction in teens and young adults, framing attitudes early to prevent opioid abuse.

:: The University of Dayton Research Institute (Dayton, Ohio) was recognised for a neurofeedback application developed by software engineer Kelly Cashion. It uses sensors to provide real-time information to patients about their brain activity, allowing them to take back control by better understanding the effects of addiction on their brains. “Some people like to play video games, or look at the sunrise. By making them do these other tasks, anything to help them distract, and by constantly measuring it, you can see what works, reinforcing it and taking back control,” said Nilesh Powar, a senior research engineer who worked with Ms Cashion on the project.

The second stage of the challenge begins in late February and runs until July. It will seek expertise from within the business and innovation community to help advance winning ideas into solutions. The third phase will fund the most promising ideas into products for use in the marketplace.

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