MEET: Loren Hampton, Graduate Student Instructor/Graduate Student at University of California, Berkeley
THE CHALLENGE: A lack of awareness about sickle cell disease (SCD) among the general public and affected communities can contribute to stigma and confusion about how the disease affects people and their families on a daily basis. It can even lead to substandard care for many patients. To address this problem, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute challenged college students across the nation to develop creative new strategies that raise awareness about SCD. The challenge launched in October 2015, and winners were announced in April 2016.
Hampton, who grew up in Atlanta, served as captain of the winning team while she was an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. She and her teammates presented their research and solution to medical experts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of the competition.
THE PRIZE: $7,000 for first place award
THE SOLUTION: Hampton’s team developed a fully functional iOS app, SickleShare, that uses videos of patients’ personal experiences, medical providers’ stories, and researchers’ layman explanations of novel therapies for SCD to increase knowledge and awareness of the disease. The team also conducted a small randomized study to test the efficacy of SickleShare for increasing disease knowledge. Results from this pilot study showed that participants’ knowledge of the disease had significantly increased after using the app. Hampton also appeared in a video pitch for their idea.
IN HER OWN WORDS…
YOU WERE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH WHEN YOU PARTICIPATED IN THIS CHALLENGE. CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR INTERESTS AT THAT POINT, YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF SCD AND HOW YOU CAME TO BE INVOLVED IN THE COMPETITION?
At the time, I had been working at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Vascular Medicine Institute, looking at pulmonary arterial hypertension as a result of chronic illness, and looking at the pharmacokinetics of nitric oxide. I was preparing for a career in medicine, and all of my interests and activities at that point aligned with the medical school track. As a research assistant, I performed polymerase chain reaction (analysis of DNA and RNA), western blots (protein analysis), spectroscopy, and chromatography. Needless to say, I was on the very technical side of the disease. What I hadn’t had an opportunity to do before this project was meet real people who were living with this disease. Because of my background on the research side of SCD, a principal investigator in my lab thought this would be a great project for me to be involved with, and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to do it.
WAS THIS YOUR FIRST PRIZE COMPETITION? WHAT DID YOU FIND MOST REWARDING ABOUT THE “CHALLENGE” FORMAT?
This was my first competition of this kind. At first I was a bit apprehensive because it allowed for so much freedom of thought and ideas, but in the end, it is this exact freedom that allowed us to be creative and produce a great project.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR TEAM’S APPROACH. HOW DID YOU SETTLE ON A SMARTPHONE APP AND HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHAT IT WOULD ENTAIL?
The first thing we did on day one was get to know one another’s strengths, weaknesses, skills, and knowledge sets. I think because we were all so different in these regards, brainstorming for the challenge lasted quite a while and there was a broad range of ideas. The way we settled on the app was actually by trying to incorporate everyone’s unique ideas into one project. Having tech gurus as part of the team then allowed us to encompass all the features of our ideas into one functional app.
WHAT WAS THE MAKEUP OF YOUR TEAM IN TERMS OF SKILLS? DID YOU HAVE A MIX OF RESEARCH, SCIENCE, DEVELOPER, HEALTHCARE, ETC. SKILL SETS AMONG YOUR TEAM MEMBERS?
One thing that was really incredible is that each member of our team came from a different background. I was doing research on SCD, one of my teammates was working with our mentor on new technologies in health, another member of the team was working at a children’s hospital in the sickle cell ward, and another teammate (who is now a first year at Pitt Med) was doing research and also has SCD herself. It was an absolute privilege to have everyone come from such different backgrounds and be able to provide skills that complemented one another. I could not have asked for a better team!
WHAT DID YOU DO WITH YOUR SHARE OF THE PRIZE MONEY?
I was able to use the prize money to help supplement my graduate school tuition, which was a blessing.
IS THE APP, SICKLESHARE, STILL OUT THERE AND BEING USED?
The app is still available on the App Store; however, due to the cost of maintaining the app, it has been stripped of most of its functionality, only allowing users to view the information and videos but not post their own videos to the app. In the future, I hope to secure funding to continue the work we started with the app and expand its use as a tool to positively impact the SCD community.
YOU’RE NOW AT UC BERKELEY. HOW DID YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE SCD CHALLENGE INFLUENCE YOUR EDUCATION AND CAREER PATH?
Being a part of this challenge actually launched my career in public health. The experience of conducting video interviews and gathering data was my first glimpse into the world of public health, and I have been hooked ever since. Being a part of the challenge opened a lot of doors for me including mentorships with people at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that have been instrumental to my ongoing academic career.
HOW DID THIS CHALLENGE RAISE YOUR OWN AWARENESS OF MEDICAL ISSUES AND SCD?
As a team, we were required to come up with an innovative idea to increase awareness and knowledge of SCD. This experience was so much bigger than creating a great project with an incredible team. This project was the first opportunity I had to be in front of patients collectively facing public health challenges such as issues obtaining pain medication from the hospitals, lack of quality health insurance and food insecurity.
HAVE YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY OTHER PRIZE COMPETITIONS SINCE THIS ONE?
I have not, this is my first and only thus far. What I will say however, is that I have participated in scholarship competitions that I was able to win by referencing the great work that my team and I did for this challenge.
LET’S WRAP UP WITH A FREE-FOR-ALL. ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE PARTICIPATING IN THE COMPETITION?
I truly believe this challenge is an incredible opportunity for undergraduate students. It was surreal visiting the NIH, and presenting my research was a life-changing experience. Sometimes when you’re young you feel like you don’t have a voice, or at least that no one “important” wants to hear what you have to say. Standing with my team, as a recent grad at 21 years old, there was nothing more powerful and reassuring than holding a captive audience of some of the most brilliant minds in the world.
Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s Challenge.gov program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 820 competitions have been listed on Challenge.gov, where members of the public can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.