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The conundrum of counting sea lions

Calling all computer scientists and citizen innovators – we need your help with counting an endangered population of Steller sea lions.

Here’s the backstory.

Counting the Steller sea lion population is vital to monitoring the species and staying informed about how population are doing. Each summer, NOAA Fisheries biologists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center head up to Alaska and gear up for weeks in the field to conduct abundance surveys. These surveys are conducted from research vessels or survey aircraft.

The Steller sea lion ranges throughout the North Pacific Ocean but the Alaska Fishery Science Center biologists conduct abundance surveys only in Alaska (United States). The species is comprised of two distinct populations divided at the 144 degree north longitudinal line in the Gulf of Alaska. While the “eastern population” along the west coast of North America is doing quite well, the “western population” that extends along the Alaskan coastline out to the Aleutian Islands is another story.

The western population in the United States began to decline in the 1970s with the steepest declines observed in the mid-1980s. Because of persistent declines, this population was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1997. While the eastern portion of this population began to recover in 2003, the area to the west has continued to decline. Sea lions have decline almost 95 percent in the western Aleutian Islands region in the last 30 years.

Our annual abundance surveys means NOAA Fisheries can monitor this population and use this abundance data to inform population models. One of the main ways we collect these counts is to capture aerial imagery of sea lions hauled out on land during our survey window. It takes two biologists up to four months to look through those aerial images and count each individual sea lion. As we count the tens of thousands of sea lions, we identify the age and sex of each individual.

We hope computer scientists will connect with us on Kaggle to create an innovative algorithm that can recognize sea lions in aerial photos. Automation, or partial automation, would make counting more efficient and give us biologists more time to focus on other important Steller sea lion research studies.

Katie Sweeney is a biologist at the Alaska Ecosystem Program at the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

Posted in Algorithm, Engineering, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Scientific, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Finalists Announced in EdSim Challenge

We are thrilled to share that today the U.S. Department of Education announced the five finalists in the EdSim Challenge. The Challenge called upon the virtual reality, video game developer, and educational technology communities to submit concepts for immersive simulations that will prepare students for the globally competitive workforce of the 21st century.

Five finalists were selected out of an impressive 249 submissions. Thank you to everyone who entered for your hard work! We are inspired by the tremendous participation in the Challenge.

Join us in congratulating the finalists!

  • Case Western Reserve University: Holographic Anatomy to Transform Healthcare Learning is a digital alternative to cadaver-based dissection, teaching medical anatomy using Microsoft HoloLens.
  • Embodied Labs, Inc.: The Alfred Lab is a series of VR patient experience labs, training students to become better caregivers of aging populations.
  • Octothorpe LLC: The Irregular: Sherlock Holmes is a VR experience that uses critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork to explore subjects such as chemistry and psychology.
  • Osso VR Inc.: Osso VR is an orthopedic surgical training simulation platform that specializes in realistic, hands-on interaction.
  • Smart Sparrow: LifeCraft explores the story of life on Earth through various VR journeys ranging from archeology and biology, to astronomy.

The finalists were recommended by a panel of judges with expertise in education, gaming, workforce development, emerging technology, and venture capital.

Each finalist will receive $50,000, as well as in-kind prizes from Oculus and Samsung, and will enter the Virtual Accelerator to refine their submission and develop a prototype. HTC VIVE™ announced separately that they will offer each finalist a Vive virtual reality headset.

The Virtual Accelerator phase will culminate in Demo Day, where each of the finalists will present their playable prototypes to the panel of judges. The judges will recommend the grand prize winner(s) to receive remaining $430,000 of the $680,000 cash prize and additional in-kind prizes from IBM and Microsoft.

Stay tuned for the announcement of the winner later this year.

This blog post originally appeared on the EdSim Challenge website.

Posted in Creative, Department of Education, Simulation | Leave a comment

NIH launches competition to develop human eye tissue in a dish

The National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health, has opened the first stage of a federal prize competition designed to generate miniature, lab-grown human retinas. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. Over the next three years pending availability of funds, NEI plans to offer more than $1 million in prize money to spur development of human retina organoids.

“None of the model systems currently available to researchers match the complex architecture and functionality of the human retina,” said NEI Director Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D. “We are looking for new ideas to create standardized, reproducible 3-D retina organoids that can speed the discovery of treatments for diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease, both leading causes of blindness.”

Currently, more than 4.2 million people over age 40 in the U.S. are visually impaired or blind, and that number is expected to double by the year 2050.1 Major visual disorders among Americans have an estimated annual economic burden of more than $35.4 billion.2

Research models are more valuable the more closely they mimic human tissue. Researchers hope to use retina organoids to study how retinal cells interact under healthy and diseased conditions, and to test potential therapies.

Stage I: Ideas

The ideation stage of the 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge aims to generate innovative ideas that can later be turned into concrete concepts. Running until August 1, 2017, the total prize purse for the ideation stage is $100,000.

“We’re looking for creative insights and application of new technology to unleash the full potential of retinal organoids. Our goal is for researchers to be able to generate or obtain retinal organoids easily so that they can be widely used for understanding diseases and testing drugs,” explained Jessica Mazerik, Ph.D., NEI challenge coordinator. “To do this, we are encouraging entries from diverse teams of participants.” They may come from vision research, developmental and stem cell biology, tissue engineering, materials science, 3-D bioprinting, and other fields.

Stage I also has a special solver category exclusively for trainees, which includes graduate and undergraduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and medical students. NEI has launched a discussion forum as a teambuilding space.

So far, nine sponsors have joined the challenge to support solvers through grants, access to expertise and discounted reagents, and in-kind testing.

Proposed Stage II: Development

The development stage of the challenge will require demonstration of a functional retina organoid prototype. This stage is planned to launch in fall 2017 and expected to offer $1 million in prize money.

Full details of the 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge prize competition are available at and here on


1. Varma R, Vajaranant TS, Burkemper B, Wu S, Torres M, Hsu C, Choudhury F, McKean-Cowdin R. Visual Impairment and Blindness in Adults in the United StatesDemographic and Geographic Variations From 2015 to 2050. JAMA Ophthalmol.134(7):802-809. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2016.1284 (2016).

2. Rein, D. B. et al. The economic burden of major adult visual disorders in the United States. Arch Ophthalmol. 124, 1754-1760. (2006).


NEI leads the federal government’s research on the visual system and eye diseases. NEI supports basic and clinical science programs to develop sight-saving treatments and address special needs of people with vision loss. For more information, visit

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

This post originally appeared on the National Eye Institute website.

Posted in Ideas, National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Scientific | Leave a comment

Space Poop Challenge Winner’s Solution May End Up in Space Soon

The winner of a recent NASA challenge may see his invention (or parts of it) launched into space on a mission in the next few years.

“I guess it was all pretty abstract before, but it does look like they will use some of the ideas fairly soon,” said Air Force Col. Thatcher Cardon, a family doctor and flight surgeon whose system for managing bathroom functions in space won NASA’s recent Space Poop Challenge.

Managed with the help of HeroX, the prize competition sought in-suit solutions for dealing with bodily functions in space. Specifically, the agency is looking for a solution that would be of service in circumstances when astronauts have to stay in their pressurized suits for extended periods of time. They currently wear something akin to adult diapers in such situations.

Cardon’s first-place solution, called M-PATS, involves a perineal access port, introducers, a suction mechanism and a hygiene wand for cleanup.

NASA officials have said they will work with the designs they received through the competition and even use the ideas to send a system into space on a manned mission in the next few years.

The target is the Orion mission, which aims to send astronauts farther into deep space than any human has ever been and return them home to Earth. NASA plans to send humans to an asteroid in the 2020s and then to Mars in the 2030s.

“They need a solution and they liked my idea,” Cardon said. “And they expect the solution they ultimately use will incorporate my ideas.”

The Air Force colonel visited NASA to discuss his solution with engineers just last week and will keep in touch with the agency as it works with industry to develop a system that is ready for the space environment.

Cardon will continue tinkering on his own as well. He has used his prize money to get a provisional patent for his idea and even bought a combination lathe/milling machine to try to build aluminum parts for his system.

It wasn’t Cardon’s first time entering a prize competition. In 2013, he submitted a solution to improve the innovation process within the Military Health System.

Cardon didn’t win the challenge, but he did go on to have his idea successfully implemented at the Mike O’Callaghan Federal Medical Center on Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

For the NASA challenge, Cardon was the top prize of $15,000 from a diverse field of competitors that stretched around the world.

The challenge caught on with inventors around the world. More than 20,000 competitors from 130 countries participated. Five thousand ideas were put forth in the end, and three winners were chosen.

The runners-up in the challenge rounded out an eclectic group of winners.

The second-place team consisted of a trio of friends who are the product of engineering programs at the University of Texas at Austin.

And the third-place finisher even brought an eclectic resume to the challenge, including product design with electronics and even experience working with magicians.

For more information on the winners and their solutions, see NASA’s announcement.

Posted in Demonstration, Design, NASA, Prize Competitions, Success Stories, Technology, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Winning App Crowdsources Life-Saving Response to Opioid Overdose

In the United States, people are now more likely to die from a drug overdose than in a car accident.

Overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with opioids being the culprit in most of these fatalities. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. Ninety-one Americans die every day from an opioid overdose in this country, from overdoses involving heroin and prescription painkillers, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Various organizations have joined forces to battle this epidemic. But sometimes there’s no getting ahead of the problem and you have to find something to help at the last possible moment.

That’s why the Food and Drug Administration turned to and ran the Naloxone App Competition.

Naloxone is a prescription medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. In many communities, there has been a push to make the drug available to both emergency personnel and non-experts, such as families and friends of drug users.

The challenge is quickly connecting those with naloxone to a person experiencing an overdose.

More than 150 teams registered for the FDA’s competition and over 100 people participated in a two-day code-a-thon event, both aimed at finding technological solutions to this problem.

In the end, a solution from a small startup called PwrdBy won the $40,000 cash prize.

The company’s mobile app, OD Help, makes the life-saving connection between an overdose victim and someone who can administer naloxone. Beyond that, it has an optional interface with a breathing monitor. If someone suffering an overdose can’t make a call for help, the app can detect a decline in breathing and alert naloxone carriers of a potential overdose.

PrizeWire recently spoke to Jared Sheehan, CEO of PwrdBy, about OD Help and how the competition provided an environment that inspired innovation.


PrizeWire: Tell us a little about PwrdBy and what attracted you to the FDA Naloxone App Competition.


Sheehan: PwrdBy is a Santa Monica-based startup that provides technology innovation to the social sector. We focus primarily on nonprofits and healthcare. The FDA challenge aligned with our interest to take on a major social issue in the United States. We were really excited to see the FDA pushing the envelope with an eye for mobile innovation.

PW: Your winning solution for the challenge was OD Help. In a nutshell, what does it do and how does it do it?

Sheehan: OD Help engages opioid users, their network of supporters, and the health community to crowdsource naloxone in the case of an opioid overdose. Utilizing mobile geospatial technology the application will connect victims of overdose with carriers of naloxone. The application will also enable users to find naloxone information, resources, and help to individuals interested in learning more about opioids.

PW: PwrdBy already has worked in the health space with the In Flight Mobile App, which helps hospital fundraisers connect with donors. How challenging was it to move from that to needing to provide connections in immediate life-and-death situations?

Sheehan: OD Help actually came from our experience designing and developing In Flight. In Flight enables hospital fundraisers to geolocate fundraising partners across the United States and Canada, enable meaningful conversations, and crowdsource photos and actions. While most of the features are different, the focus on real-time, on-the-go data for users helped conceptualize how to think about building OD Help’s main functionality.

PW: Had you been following the trends in opioid use in this country, or was this a situation where you had to get educated at the same time you were developing your solution?

Sheehan: Like many in this country, we had been casually following the opioid abuse crisis. But to build something that really solves a problem, you have to thoroughly understand the end user and have empathy for their situation. We conducted interviews and combed through academic articles on the subject. Throughout our research process, we ended up challenging our own ideas of what a victim looks like.  

PW: How did the challenge format shape your innovation process?

Sheehan: There is ample research to suggest that certain constraints drive creativity and innovation. The FDA was very clear about the specific issues they wanted us to focus on. The controlled setting of the challenge format really let us focus on innovative solutions.

The challenge was also interesting because of our end user. Normally, our users are conscious and able to interact with an app. That is rarely the case when someone is experiencing an opioid overdose. We really had to think outside the box and reevaluate what made the app “usable.”

PW: What’s next for OD Help? And how will you use the prize money?

Sheehan: We are currently in the process of applying for a National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) grant to conduct our own research and further develop the platform. We are using the $40,000 from the FDA to develop partnerships with leading researchers, medical professionals, and regulatory bodies to apply for this grant. To build a fully functional product, especially considering the risk factors, we’re going to need more support and testing.


For more on the Naloxone App Competition and OD Help, read this blog from Dr. Peter Lurie, FDA associate commissioner for public health strategy and analysis.

Posted in Apps,, Food and Drug Administration, Success Stories, Uncategorized, Winner Stories | 2 Comments

Finalists Announced in NASA’s Space Robotics Challenge

When astronauts finally land on the surface of Mars, they may not be alone.

They may bring with them some associates who stand more than six feet tall, weigh about 300 pounds and have programmed souls.

This past summer NASA launched its Space Robotics Challenge, which seeks to equip humanoid robots with the autonomy and dexterity they need to work alongside astronauts on a Mars mission — and even do some prep work before humans arrive.

NASA just announced 20 finalists in the competition, chosen from a field of more than 90 teams with participants from 13 countries. They are now preparing their software solutions for the next phase of the virtual competition in June.

Eligible teams will receive $15,000 for their work in the qualification round. They are competing for $1 million in prize money.

You can see the names of the finalists on the main Space Robotics Challenge webpage.

The teams have developed software that will help robots like NASA’s R5 (aka Valkyrie) complete basic tasks on their own, things like deploying and preparing habitats, power systems and other infrastructure on Mars before humans arrive.

Or back home on Earth, helping out with disaster relief and maintenance at industrial plants.

For this competition, teams are writing code to a specific situation.

NASA sets the scene this way:

“In the not so distant future … R5 has arrived on Mars along with supplies ahead of a human mission. Overnight a dust storm damaged the habitat and solar array, and caused the primary communication antenna to become misaligned. R5 must now repair an air leak in the habitat, deploy a new solar panel, and align the communication antenna.”

R5’s new skills will come in handy soon enough.

NASA has the first manned mission to Mars penciled in for sometime in the 2030s.

For more information on challenges from NASA, check out the agency’s page here on and the Centennial Challenges Program.

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Challenge Winners Look to Root Out Contamination at Food Processing Plants

Some prize competitions seek to solve problems to benefit the public; others may spur industry through the creation of new businesses.

And some do both.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) I-FAST competition sought to bring fundamental academic research to the marketplace through innovations in food and agricultural science and technology, or I-FAST.

Working with the National Science Foundation (NSF), USDA awarded $50,000 each to four winning teams, who are now working to bring their innovations to the marketplace.

“Innovation is an economic driver and a necessity in the agriculture industry,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). “Through this new partnership with the National Science Foundation, we are able to help move ideas from the research lab to the marketplace, where they can provide real solutions as these teams intended.”

Take food contaminations, for example. They are often the result of naturally occurring pathogens and bad for both consumers and business.

Thanks to the I-FAST competition, a new company in Missouri has formed around a device that will make it easier to detect food-borne pathogens at processing plants.

Dr. Majed Dweik, associate professor at Lincoln University, a historically black college and university in Jefferson City, Mo., teamed up with Elijah Sharpe, a student entrepreneur and already the CEO of a research company, and Mike Nichols, former University of Missouri System vice president of economic development and research to enter the I-FAST competition.

“This was the first time any of our team members had competed in an event like this,” Dweik said.

Fortunately, the teams that participated received plenty of support from both NIFA and the NSF I-Corps program, which put Dweik and company through months of business training and prepared them to make an economic impact with their innovation.

“It took me out of the academic mind to think and learn how the industry works and allow me to think how to bridge the two together,” Dweik said.

The team toured many food processing plants to learn the finer points of the process and understand the most crucial needs for more efficient and effective detection of pathogens. The team members came away knowing what they needed to do to make the best product for their target market.

Now they have a device that is faster, more precise and less expensive. And they have a new company, Smart Diagnostics Systems, for their product.

The company is currently seeking funding and partners who can help move the technology to market. The team also will be applying for more funding through small business programs at USDA and NSF.

Being one of the four winning teams in the I-FAST competition comes with a sense of pride that extends beyond Dweik’s team and new company and goes straight to the heart of the university they represent.

“This award is a great deal for our university since we are also a minority-serving institution,” Dweik said. Faculty, staff and students alike are excited to see what happens when the detection technology enters the market, he said.

That’s to say nothing of those in the food processing industry.

“They believe it will make great positive change to food safety,” Dweik said. “Applying our technology into processing plants across the country will allow us to secure the quality of our food and keep citizens safe from pathogen consumption.”

Posted in, Department of Agriculture, National Science Foundation, Prize Competitions, Success Stories, Technology, Winner Stories | 2 Comments

FTC Announces Internet of Things Challenge to Combat Security Vulnerabilities in Home Devices

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that it is challenging the public to create an innovative tool that will help protect consumers from security vulnerabilities in the software of home devices connected to the Internet of Things. The agency is offering a cash prize of up to $25,000 for the best technical solution, with up to $3,000 available for up to three honorable mention winner(s).

The FTC is asking contestants to develop a tool that would address security vulnerabilities caused by out-of-date software in IoT devices as part of the IoT Home Inspector Challenge. An ideal tool might be a physical device that the consumer can add to his or her home network that would check and install updates for other IoT devices on that home network, or it might be an app or cloud-based service, or a dashboard or other user interface.  Contestants also have the option of adding features such as those that would address hard-coded, factory default or easy-to-guess passwords.

“Every day American consumers are offered innovative new products and services to make their homes smarter,” said Jessica Rich.  “Consumers want these devices to be secure, so we’re asking for creativity from the public – the tinkerers, thinkers and entrepreneurs – to help them keep device software up-to-date.”

The Internet of Things, an array of billions of everyday objects sending and receiving data over the internet, is expanding rapidly with the adoption of applications such as health and fitness monitors, home security devices, connected cars and household appliances. It holds many potential benefits for consumers, but also raises numerous privacy and security concerns that could undermine consumer confidence.

Submissions will be accepted as early as March 1, 2017 and are due May 22, 2017 at 12:00 p.m. EDT. Winners will be announced on or about July 27, 2017.

Up to 20 contestants will be selected in the first round, where judges will only assess the contestants’ videos and abstracts without the detailed explanation. Qualifying contestants will then move on to the next and final round where the detailed explanations will be considered for a chance to win the top prize of $25,000 or $3,000 for honorable mention.

An expert panel of five judges will judge the contest.

This the FTC’s fourth government contest under the America COMPETES Act, and the first one addressing IoT issues. In 2015, the FTC hosted robocall contests in partnership with Pindrop Security and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Complete rules for the current contest are published in the Federal Register and available at: where you can find instructions and requirements regarding the registration and submission process. Contest information will also be posted on, an online challenge platform administered by the U.S. General Services Administration.

This post originally appeared on the FTC website.

Posted in, Federal Trade Commission, Prize Competitions, Technology | 3 Comments

Help Shape New Directions in Open Science: Vote for your favorite Innovation!

In the spirit of open science – a movement to make data and other information from scientific research available to everyone — the National Institutes of Health invites you to cast your vote and help us decide which of the projects competing for the Open Science Prize are the most innovative and most likely to have the greatest impact. Your vote plays a critical role in determining the three finalists for the ultimate selection of a grand prize winner of $230,000.00

In this competition, six finalist teams, composed of at least one U.S.-based and one international researcher, are using open data to improve human health. Open data refers to publicly-accessible data that is available for re-use by anyone.

While science is truly a global endeavor, often involving teams of scientists at institutions in different nations, funding for scientific research is typically tied to the country of origin. To overcome this, the National Institutes of Health and the UK-based Wellcome Trust, with additional funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, have jointly created the Open Science Prize, an innovative effort showing how funding agencies can collaborate internationally.

The goal of this Prize is to stimulate the development of novel and ground-breaking tools and platforms to enable the reuse and repurposing of open digital research objects relevant to biomedical or health applications.  A Prize model is necessary to help accelerate the field of open biomedical research beyond what current funding mechanisms can achieve.  We also hope to demonstrate the huge potential value of Open Science approaches, and to generate excitement, momentum and further investment in the field.

The prize was first announced in 2015 and we invited solvers around the world to submit their ideas.  Out of a pool of 96 applicant teams, six finalists were selected and provided $80,000 to develop their ideas into prototypes.

Here’s a bit of background on each of the six finalist projects (listed in no particular order) on which we are asking you to vote.

Open Neuroimaging Laboratory: Advancing brain research by enabling collaborative annotation, discovery and analysis of brain imaging data

There is a massive volume of brain imaging data available on the internet, capturing different types of information such as brain anatomy, connectivity and function. This data represents an incredible effort of funding, data collection, processing and the goodwill of thousands of participants.  The development of a web-based application called BrainBox enables distributed collaboration around annotation, discovery and analysis of publicly available brain imaging data, generating insight on critical societal challenges such as mental disorders, but also on the structure of our cognition.  Collaborators can send information, make comments, and highlight particular locations on the images, and access can be restricted to allow collaborators to view the images without modifying them – using a functionality similar to Google Docs.

Open AQ: Providing real-time information on poor air quality by combining data from across the globe

Poor air quality is responsible for one out of eight deaths across the world, but the most polluted places in the world are not well-researched, hindering scientific progress. Accessible and timely air quality data is critical to advancing the scientific fight against air pollution and is essential for health research.  The OpenAQ platform collects data every 10 minutes and allows users to view stored data and compare locations.  To date, the OpenAQ community has collected 32,929,735 air quality measurements from 4,569 locations in 41 countries.  Data are aggregated from 55 government level and research-grade sources.

Real-Time Evolutionary Tracking for Pathogen Surveillance and Epidemiological Investigation:  Permitting analysis of emerging epidemics such as Ebola, MERS-CoV and Zika

The Nextstrain project is an app for tracking pathogen evolution in real time, critical in this era of high mobility. Contact tracing is the main way to fight a virus without a vaccine; sequencing the genomes of viruses such as Ebola can determine the shared mutations and phylogeny of each strain, allowing field epidemiologists a more nuanced way to trace contact. To facilitate treatment of active outbreaks of pathogens such as Zika, Nextstrain is able to show molecular epidemiology within days. It also is intended to be scalable and easy to interpret for teams on the ground. The project uses an online visualization platform where the outputs of statistical analyses can be used by public health officials for epidemiological insights within days of samples being taken from patients.

OpenTrialsFDA: Enabling better access to drug approval packages submitted to and made available by the Food and Drug Administration

The OpenTrialsFDA app makes clinical trials data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) easier to find by making the contents of the drug approval packages publically available.  These review packages often contain information on clinical trials that have never been published in academic journals.  OpenTrialsFDA allows users to see the raw results of a study, such as unpublished data or data that seem more significant than they really are, in a way that is much more user-friendly and easier to navigate than the Drugs@FDA database of publicly available documents.

Fruit Fly Brain Observatory: Allowing researchers to better conduct modeling of mental and neurological diseases by connecting data related to the fly brain

Understanding human brain function and disease is arguably the biggest challenge in neuroscience. To help address this challenge, researchers turn to smaller but sufficiently complex brains from other organisms. The Fruit Fly Brain Observatory allows data from fruit fly brain scans to be used as models for investigating human neurological and psychological disorders. The Fruit Fly Brain Observatory also has integrated healthy and diseased models of the human brain for study. Using computational disease models, researchers can make targeted modifications that are difficult to perform in vivo with current genetic techniques. The platform is modular, so it will be extendable to mice, zebrafish, and other experimental animals. These capabilities have the potential to significantly accelerate the development of powerful new ways to predict the effects of pharmaceuticals upon neural circuit functions.

MyGene2: Accelerating Gene Discovery with Radically Open Data Sharing

Approximately 350 million people worldwide and over 30 million Americans have a rare disease. Most of these rare diseases are so-called Mendelian conditions, which means that mutation(s) in a single gene can cause disease.  Examples of such diseases are include sickle-cell anemia, Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis and xeroderma pigmentosa. Over 7,000 Mendelian conditions have been described, but to date, scientists have only linked half of those conditions to a specific gene. Consequently, close to 70 percent of families who undergo clinical testing lack a diagnosis.  MyGene2 is a website that makes it easy and free for families with Mendelian conditions to share health and genetic information with other families, clinicians and researchers worldwide in order to make a match.

You can play a part in shaping the future of biomedical research by going to, reviewing the projects listed there, and voting for the three you would like to see advance to the final round of competition. Voting is open from December 1, 2016 until January 6, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. PST.  The 3 prototypes receiving the highest number of public votes will advance to a final round of review by a panel of science experts and judges from the National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust  A single, grand prize winning team will receive an award of $230,000 jointly funded by the collaborators will be announced in March 2017.

Posted in, Data, National Institutes of Health, Open Innovation, Prize Competitions | Leave a comment

Q&A: Company Finds Validation, New Partners in Hearing Loss Challenge

Noise-induced hearing loss is prevelant among workers in industries from manufacturing to the military, where it is the most common disability among veterans.

Each year, more than 20 million workers are exposed to noise levels that can cause irreparable damage to the inner ear and lead to hearing loss and tinnitus, which is a ringing in the ears. These conditions cost employers millions of dollars each year and cannot be reversed through medicine or surgery.

The U.S. Department of Labor this year ran the Hear & Now Noise Safety Challenge to look for technological solutions to help reduce hearing loss on the job.

PrizeWire recently spoke with Nick Laperle, president and chief hearing evangelist of EERS, the company that won the first-place prize in the competition with a system that provides hearing protection, monitoring and the ability to communicate in high-noise environments.

In the aftermath of winning, EERS is continuing to work closely with the government and even other competitors from the challenge to work toward the common goal of eliminating noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace.


PrizeWire: Tell me a little about EERS – how and when did it get started?

Nick Laperle: I have 20 years of experience in hearing health, following in the footsteps of my family who established several clinics in Quebec. Founded in 2015, EERS Inc. is a spin-off of Sonomax, a cutting edge hearing protection company whose technological building blocks helped create this new product called EERS.

Nick Laperle

Nick Laperle

EERS also has a unique relationship with École de technologie supérieure (ETS) de Montréal, one of the largest engineering schools in Canada and our sponsored chair in auditory research. Through the iterative work of the post graduates and the core technology, EERS has created a very scalable, affordable, easily adoptable solution that we feel will effectively help eliminate noise-induced hearing loss in the work place.

Standard hearing protection forces noise-exposed workers to make an unsafe choice: stay protected and isolated, or be unprotected to communicate. No one should have to choose between safety and doing their job. EERS plans to end hearing loss with three steps. First, protection: A worker’s hearing is always protected. Second, communication: A worker stays protected and can communicate at all times. Third, monitoring: Management can take corrective action prior to potential damage. Comparative products can’t do all three or are too costly for mass adoption. We change the game by providing all three steps for a little more than the cost of disposable plugs.

PW: How did you hear about the Hear & Now Noise Safety Challenge?

NL: A contact at the American Industrial Hygiene Association, an organization devoted to protecting the health and safety of workers, forwarded the announcement of the competition as she thought it was a perfect fit for our company.

PW: Was this your first prize competition?

NL: No, with our other products we won a number of awards, including the Edison Award, CES Innovation Awards, Product of the Year, as well as Product of the Future. For this new product, this is our first win, but it won’t be our last.

PW: How did your experience in this competition differ from your usual interactions with government agencies?

NL: In the past, trying to get exposure with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was very challenging. This was an excellent initiative by Kelly Schnapp, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Assessment at OSHA. We are most grateful to her as she has done a phenomenal job in putting this together.

PW: There were other groups who also were invited to pitch their solutions to the investor/judging panel. What was the interaction like between all the different entrepreneurs there?

NL: There was a definite feeling of camaraderie from the other entrepreneurs. All of us are working towards the same goal of eliminating noise-induced hearing loss. We are, in fact, in discussions with one of the other finalists, and looking to collaborate with at least two other contestants.

PW: What has winning the Noise Safety Challenge meant to EERS?

NL: Along with great exposure from the competition, winning the challenge meant validation that we are on the right track and boosted confidence from our distribution and financial partners. Since winning the challenge we’ve been contacted by several end users as well as the Mine Safety and Health Administration to look at how we can help in the mining industry. What we are most excited about is the Research to Practice portion where actual National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health scientists would go in the field and document the claims we are making and the end user experience. We believe this will be of huge value to scale the business in 2018 and beyond.

PW: What does the future hold for EERS?

NL: In the coming months, we will put the final touches on the product and begin the roll out to actual users in the field. We are currently working on our alpha testing. We will do beta testing in the first quarter of 2017 and have a release date in late 2017. We continue to work on research as hearing evangelists and let the world hear that is it possible to eliminate noise-induced hearing loss from the workplace.


For more on the Noise Safety Challenge and the other winners, visit the Department of Labor’s main challenge website.

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