UT wins first place in MedHacks competition at John Hopkins

Kevin Dural

A team of three UT-Austin students placed first in the world’s largest medical hackathon, Medhacks, hosted at Johns Hopkins University.

Teams of students and professionals from across the country competed for 36 hours, developing technology-based solutions for various medical issues. Biomedical engineering junior Landon Hackley, nutrition senior Adelyn Yau, and chemical engineering sophomore Krishna Anand received the award after pitching their project to a panel of judges from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

The team tackled the problem of food deserts, or urban areas lacking accessible or affordable fresh food. Texas has the second highest rate of food insecurity in the nation with over 3.1 million people experiencing low or very low food security, according to the Report of the Healthy Food Advisory Committee. The UT team designed a food delivery service to reduce this issue.

“We were given datasets of patient information and we identified geographic areas whose populations disproportionately face health issues related to nutrition,” Anand said.

Their project consisted of two parts, the first a Blue Apron-like food delivery service for diabetic, prenatal and hypertensive patients. The service would deliver food straight to customers’ doorsteps.

The net profit of the first venture would fund the second venture, a transportation system designed to pick up food from grocers and food banks to drop off at hot spots within these food deserts.

“These two ideas, when implemented together, are self-sustaining,” Anand said. “We thought they would really jump for the idea.”

And they did. The team is working with the company to launch their idea as winners of the competition.

The most surprising aspect of the entire experience, the team said, is that all three members had little to no coding skills.

“I had … basically no coding experience,” Yau said. “But the medical component … made me feel as if I’d still be able to contribute to my team.”

Yau researched vegetable availability in food insecure households through Texas Sprouts at UT, giving her some practical knowledge that allowed the team to secure the win.

Ironically, Hackley’s weakness was coding, which was the reason he ultimately decided to apply for the competition, he said.

“I’ve always wanted to get into the field considering how useful coding skills are today,” Hackley said.

Anand said the team was especially proud to win given the diverse levels of skill.

“To win the national hackathon was incredible considering the high learning curve,” Anand said. “And we represented UT as we did it.”