Univ. of Maryland Students Design Tech to Address Pandemic Challenges

For the annual University of Maryland bioengineering Senior Capstone Design Competition, students developed tech platforms and concepts to address public health challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and other viral disease threats.

Increasingly, solutions for today's most pressing health needs lie at the interface of biology and data science.

One group of students presented "An Educational SARS-CoV2 Genome Browser," a fully functional, easy-to-navigate browser housed within an educational SARS-CoV-2 resource website. The group worked to address the need for strategies to more effectively communicate relevant scientific knowledge and research to the public in the event of a pandemic or public health crisis. The browser is designed with an intended audience of high-school and college-aged students in biology-related course settings. It also provides a new avenue for evidence-based decision making in public health.

Key features include tracks of proteins of interest, variant mutations, and restrictions. The resource website  features web pages that explain the biology of SARS-CoV-2 alongside relevant public health information on COVID-19, such as vaccination and mask usage. The bioengineering undergraduates collected feedback from more than 40 students and educators and they've tapped Google Analytics to understand user behavior.  The project allowed the team to apply advanced coding skills in order to adapt their browser to the constraints of a virtual learning environment. In fact, the team's prototype has already been applied in course settings.

Another group of students with similar aspirations presented a project titled "COVID-19 App Suite for Contact-Free Patient Screening."

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals in the United States have followed CDC guidance for social distancing and avoided indoor gatherings and meeting others face-to-face. Recognizing that simple tasks like attending a routine doctor's appointment or a check-up for a pre-existing health issue posed an increased risk for contracting and spreading the virus, the group set out to design technology that could address common telehealth challenges. 

According to the group, some challenges with existing telehealth platforms include electrical transmission of private information, conducting and monitoring patients during specialized tests such as imaging and nasal swabbing, and increased chance of misdiagnosis without direct patient-physician interaction. The student group's pilot program, titled Cothecare, aims to resolve the current issues and pitfalls of telehealth.

The group's mobile app suite was developed with guidance and approval from a physician and trauma center specialist. It securely stores patient information and connects via private message or call to a physician with a working relationship established with the patient. The system allows for daily logging of coronavirus and asthma related symptoms and provides a diagnosis with suggestions for care based on these symptoms. The group aims to improve outpatient care and increase access to health care professionals and physicians in order to diagnose and receive guidance on COVID-19 and asthma by developing a mobile app suite. 

Both student groups worked to apply programming, technology, and bioengineering expertise in a unique capacity to shape how future public health challenges are handled.

Excited to learn more about how technology has advanced the medical field, and looking to leverage experience in the life sciences and computation?

Biocomputational engineers can take things a step further. They apply their knowledge of computer programming to analyze biological data sets and create new diagnostic technologies for the treatment and prevention of disease. Biocomputational engineers are in high demand, particularly in the areas of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, biomedical devices, telemedicine, and electronic medical records.

The best — and easiest — way to initiate the Biocomputational Engineering degree application process is to book a meeting with our program coordinator, Emily Bailey, who can walk you through your personalized transfer pathway — especially if you’re interested in enrolling in the fall of 2021 or spring of 2022.



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