Innovative Pitt Competition Aims to Solve Health Problems through Patient Engagement

PITTSBURGH – In a creative, community-wide competition to spark fresh ideas that engage people in their own health care, the University of Pittsburgh is offering $300,000 in funding to three winners in its first Pitt Innovation Challenge, or PInCh.

Just as a reality TV show gives contestants an opportunity to share their inventions, PInCh will give scientists and other community members a venue to be creative and develop new ideas, said CTSI director Steven Reis, M.D., who also is associate vice chancellor for clinical research, health sciences, and a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. PInCh’s inaugural question is: “How do we empower individuals to take control of their own health outcomes?”

“Instead of trying to figure out the molecular mechanisms of hypertension, for example, the team might try to figure out how to reduce the rate of high blood pressure in a specific region,” Reis said. “We want to encourage researchers to approach their work in a different way. Rather than conducting experiments focused on scientific details, they must look at the big picture to try to solve a problem that has public health or clinical importance.”

According to PInCh program director John Maier, M.D., Ph.D., director of research and development and assistant professor, Department of Family Medicine, Pitt School of Medicine, the first step in the competition requires submitting a two-minute video by March 2 that introduces the team, defines the health problem that is being tackled and briefly outlines the creative solution. Early round winners will be invited to a final round of judging in May at a public event in which teams will make short presentations to a panel of judges.

“This will be a great opportunity to get new or risky ideas in front of judges who have experience in science, business, technology and other fields, so participation itself should be rewarding and fun,” Maier said. “We plan to have a ‘People’s Choice’ award, too, so everyone will have a chance to vote for projects that appeal to them.”

Anyone can enter, and teams that bring together collaborators from different perspectives, institutions and disciplines are encouraged, but at least one member of the team must be a Pitt faculty member. If needed, PInCh organizers will help community members connect with a member of the faculty. The solution could be a device, a software application, an intervention strategy or any other approach that could address the health problem the team identifies.

“We hope to de-risk wild ideas to solve clinical or public health problems by providing funding and project management to take them to the next level,” Reis said. “We think some amazing ideas will come out of this process, and we hope the PInCh model can be used in future competitions to stimulate innovative solutions to challenging issues.”

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