Matthew Hicks is no ordinary man…he is an extraordinary man. At only 26, the SCC graduate has led a team of undergrad students in the development of a tool that may save many lives in developing countries.
Last year, the UW senior had attended a lecture by Dr. Rob Nathan on the challenges that midwives in developing countries face that lead to unnecessary high mortality rates of pregnant women and newborns. Nathan explained that if midwives (who deliver the majority of babies in rural areas in Uganda and other remote places), had access to easy-to-use, portable testing devices that could be used early in pregnancies to detect problems these grave statistics could be changed. Nathan said that the devices currently on the market cost between $15,000 and $60,000, making it nearly impossible for ministries of health and donors to purchase or donate. He encouraged students to consider designing an easy to use portable ultrasound platform that could be produced at a much lower cost.
“I went to bed that night not being able to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about Dr. Nathan’s request for a cheaper ultrasound device,” Hicks recalled. “That’s when I knew I had to tackle this project.”
Hicks, who will earn his bachelor’s degree in Comparative History of Ideas and Informatics this spring, put together a team of five undergrad students from engineering and computer science to create an ultrasound device that met the requirements suggested by Nathan. Only 10 months later, the team had built an ultrasound “platform” that consists of an ultrasound probe that connects to a USB port to a touch screen net book. It will help detect early on, multiple and breech birth situations and when the birth canal is blocked.
Hicks could not be happier. The prototype has been tested by radiologists and ultrasound technicians at several local hospitals and the response has been positive and using free software has helped them keep the cost of production to only about $3,500.
In November, 2010, Hicks’ research team was awarded a $100,000 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations grant. The UW team was one of only 65 of 2,400 applicants to win an award. Hicks and his team hope to go to Uganda this spring to work with midwives.
The team will continue to make improvements, Hicks said. “It’s important that the process is easy for midwives to use,” Hicks said, explaining that the midwives work 16 hour days and don’t have time for complicated technology. “We hope to get the training down to about two weeks.”
Graduate students, engineering and computer science professors, a radiologist and a physician have jumped on board recently to help out. The project has been presented at a conference in London and at other compute science workshops.
Hicks says that the confidence it took to be able to be a part of something so significant really came from his instructors at Shoreline. His math instructor, Sarah Leyden is one person he is quick to give credit to.
“She shared her struggles in math and she prevailed and is now living her dream teaching others how to defeat their fears,” Hicks said. “I was able to get the confidence to be able to break them down and conquer them with her support.”
Leyden could not be happier for her former student. “He just underestimated what he was capable of doing and it wasn’t until he started listening to us (his instructors) that he began to believe he could do anything he set his mind to. It’s amazing to see how far he has come,” Leyden said.
Read about the project.
Donna Myers, PIO