GIF of Lyda Hill speaking and the Hack-a-thon

On the evening of November 1, hundreds of students, physicians, and engineers came from around the world to collaborate for a total of 48 hours over the span of three days.

Two people looking at a computer

Participants came from all over the world to take part in the 48-hour biomedical hackathon at UT Southwestern.

This weekend marked the second U-Hack Med hackathon at UT Southwestern Medical Center. The hackathon, hosted by the Lyda Hill Department of Bioinformatics, focuses on creating biomedical computational solutions to address the challenges faced by health care professionals every day. 

Despite varying backgrounds, motivations, and professions, each participant joined under the unifying mission to use their knowledge and resources to help progress life sciences and improve clinical processes. 

Forming a total of 12 teams, participants spent hours brainstorming, working, and collaborating to develop their ideas, preparing to pitch their computational solutions to industry professionals, philanthropists, and civic leaders on the final night of the hackathon. 

Three main awards was given to teams in order to recognize and further facilitate solutions that were developed during the hackathon. 

The Best Health Impact award, presented by Kathleen Gibson, President and CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation, recognized the idea that best translates into a direct medical outcome. The Best Start-Up Award, presented by Michael Gregory, Co-Managing Partner at Avidity Capital Management L.P., was given to the team whose idea provides the most potential for a viable business solution. The Overall Award, presented by philanthropist and Honorary Trustee of Southwestern Medical Foundation, Lyda Hill, was awarded to a team whose solution addresses several areas of practical application.

Gif of people working at computers with an overlay text that says boundless innovation


Above all, U-Hack Med is an incredible testament to the merits of concentrated team innovation. By bringing together a diverse set of participants with varying backgrounds and ages, U-Hack successfully melded incredible talents across the spectrum to create innovative and transformative solutions. 

U-Hack Med boasted a global participant base, recruiting participants who flew in from countries such as Germany and Abu Dhabi to take part. Samridha Shrestha embarked on a 20 hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Dallas to participate. 

Samridha is currently an undergraduate studying Computer Science at New York University Abu Dhabi. With experience in applying machine learning to medical science during his internships, he saw the hackathon as a perfect intersection between his interests and skills. 

The biggest thing [I’ve learned] from participating in previous hackathons is the importance of making connections with students from other universities and industry professionals. Working in that environment really helps you connect with other people and sometimes those connections last for a very long time.”

Samridha Shrestha, Participant on Team 4

Karanjit Kooner, M.D., Associate Professor at UT Southwestern

Karanjit Kooner, M.D., Associate Professor at UT Southwestern, led Team 11 in developing a data-driven approach to diagnosing glaucoma.

The participants represented a wide range of ages and vocations, consisting of students, engineers, physicians, and UT Southwestern faculty members.

Karanjit Kooner, M.D., Associate Professor at UT Southwestern, was but one of many professors from the medical center who participated. Karanjit was drawn to the hackathon’s potential to help him and other physicians perform glaucoma diagnosis early and with increased accuracy. With more than 30 years of experience in the field of ophthalmology, Karanjit brought his clinical expertise to U-Hack Med, working with Team 11 to create a data-driven approach to diagnosing glaucoma.  

I feel overwhelmed and humbled by how much other fields have progressed and I feel that this hackathon has opened an opportunity where different disciplines can work together toward a common problem.”

Karanjit Kooner, M.D., Associate Professor at UT Southwestern

Although glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness, there are several challenges in diagnosing the condition early enough to prevent a patient’s decline in vision. This was the issue that Team 11 sought to solve.

“These patients are very complex, and currently the outlook is dim, but if we can diagnose them early and diagnose the progression of the disease early, I think we would have achieved our goal.” Karanjit explained. 

Team 11 was presented with the Best Start-Up award for establishing a more effective way to utilize data in predicting and ultimately providing early diagnosis of glaucoma. 


Gif of people at the Hack-a-thon with an overlay text that says real-world application


One of the most profound outcomes from U-Hack Med is the direct impact it has on today’s medical landscape. 

Team 7, which contained a total of 14 participants, worked on using machine learning to improve post-acute rehabilitation process flow. 

Akshay Arora, who was a member of Team 7, currently works with Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation (PCCI). During U-Hack Med, the initiatives taking place at PCCI were elevated even further through the collaboration of his team members.  

The team’s pilot studies have shown that the AI system helped case managers prioritize their care for 65% of the patients, freeing their time to implement the discharge plan, which ultimately decreases the length of stay. This also allows families more time to select and visit post-acute care facilities in advance.

“I got a very special opportunity to work alongside clinicians and healthcare experts in this field. I got to learn about real-life situations for inpatient rehabilitation patients and I feel humbled to be a part of my team at the hackathon. It feels great to win the Best Health Impact award, and at the same time, I am excited to continue working in this field to help make a difference.”

Akshay Arora, Participant on Team 7 

Team 7 not only successfully formulated their idea and presentation during the 48 hours of the hackathon, but completed an academic paper that published the last day of the hackathon on November 10.

For their outstanding progress, the team was presented with the Best Health Impact Award.

Gif of Kathleen Gibson“I am pleased to have presented this award to a group of passionate clinicians and innovators who saw a problem qualifying Medicare Advantage stroke therapy for patients in a timely manner. They used their hackathon time and team to create a solution and its potential for better patient outcomes and policy is deeply encouraging.”                                                  Kathleen Gibson, President and CEO, Southwestern Medical Foundation

Kathleen Gibson talking to participants

Kathleen Gibson, President and CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation, presenting the Best Health Impact Award to Akshay Arora and other members of U Hack Med’s Team 7.

Likewise, one of the winning teams’ ideas from last year’s U-Hack Med continues to have a direct impact on pediatric health care. 

Neel Shah, M.D., a Pediatric Critical Care Medicine Fellow at UT Southwestern who works at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Children’s Health, was a member of the winning team from last year’s U-Hack Med. He has since implemented his team’s findings into his every day work, bringing his insights to conferences around the world.

Last year, Neel’s team tackled the challenge of reducing the probability of potentially fatal outcomes when using Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) on patients. Patients who are placed on ECMO are in a critical condition, as the technology functions as an artificial heart, lung, or both. This life-saving technology supports children who are in critical conditions, but can lead to neurological complications which reduce the patient’s survival rate to 30-35%. 

For decades, doctors and researchers faced the challenge of accurately predicting which patients may have these potentially fatal complications when placed on ECMO. 

However, in 48 hours, last year’s U-Hack Med connected Neel’s clinical experience to the expertise of others to drive a bold new direction in predicting patient outcomes. His team developed a hybrid neural network to predict which patients would have these neurological injuries. The hybrid neural network was able to make predictions with a mid-to-high 70% accuracy rate.

“The goal one day would be to have real-time prediction, but the goal of [the hackathon] was to redirect where research is going to happen in this field; that’s what we were able to do based on the model we built last year.” he explained. 

Since the 2018 hackathon, three academic papers have been published on the subject, one of which was presented by Neel at an ECMO convention in Barcelona, where he won an award and was selected as one of the young investigators. Neel has also presented his team’s findings at a conference across the nation, including in Washington, D.C. and California. 

There is this huge gap that exists between what we do clinically and what gets taught in a classroom and this is the perfect place to bridge those two worlds.

Neel Shah, M.D., Member of Team 6, winner of the Best Overall award at the 2018 U-Hack Med

Neel also participated in this year’s U-Hack Med, working with Team 10 to develop novel clinical prediction approaches to managing care for acute pulmonary embolism patients. 

U-Hack Med’s power to facilitate life-changing medical advancements continues to shape the world of health care, one weekend at a time.

We are proud to champion the intersection and opportunities between health care and innovation. The connections of innovators and physicians underpin revolutionary change in the medical field, improving the patient care of tomorrow and facilitating far-reaching medical progress.

Congratulations to the winning teams:

Best Health Impact Award – Team 7: Using Machine Learning to Improve Post-Acute Rehabilitation Process Flow

Best Start-Up Award – Team 11: Optical Coherence Tomography-Angiography in Glaucoma

Overall Award – Team 9: Real-Time Cardiac Assessment of Catheterization-Derived Fick and CMR-Derived Flow


Learn more about the 2019 U-Hack Med

Read the recap from last year’s U-Hack Med