The World vs.MS - Big Idea Hack

How many academics, healthcare professionals and startups does it take to hack three of the biggest problems that people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) face? 16 to be exact! That’s the number of people who took part in our first ever Idea Hack at Health Foundry in partnership with London South Bank University on Monday evening.

We were responding to the global challenge call from The World vs. MS, a campaign exposing the daily challenges of those living with multiple sclerosis and a call looking for ideas to solve them. From 103 challenges, they whittled it down to three briefs: temperature control, mobility, and bladder control.

We kicked off the evening with an enlightening presentation from John from the MS Society. John explained that MS is a neurological condition that affects 2.5 million people worldwide and 100,000 in the UK. John likened it to if the plastic casing around an electricity cable started to fray - this is what happens to the nerves of someone with MS so they can’t send messages properly. The conditions affects more women than men (around two times more) and usually starts to present in the person's 20s or 30s. 

There are a number of different types of MS. One of the most common is Relapsing Remitting (RRMS) where people have distinct attacks of symptoms which then fade away either partially or completely. Around 85 per cent of people with MS are diagnosed with this type. Symptoms vary from person to person and from day to day. It’s this unpredictability that means every day can pose a new challenge for those living with MS.

Next Amy took us through each of the challenge briefs in turn. 80% of people living with MS are affected by bladder control issues. The urgency to urinate and the unpredictability of it, means that everyday activities – from getting the bus to simply going for a walk – can be a real source of fear and anxiety for people with this condition, having a huge impact on their self-confidence.

Approximately 70 – 80% of people living with MS experience difficulty walking. These difficulties are related to a number of factors – from muscle weakness and numbness caused by slowed or altered nerve conduction, to balance issues and unsteadiness.

The final brief focused on temperature control. Many people living with MS find themselves affected by hot and cold, with the change in temperature affecting how messages pass along nerves in the brain that have been damaged by MS, making symptoms worse.

Next we took at look at three examples of healthcare innovation to inspire us on our idea journey. One of the innovations was the “Superformula to Fight Cancer” developed in Brazil for children cancer sufferers. This simple innovation was based on the idea that the first step to the fight against cancer is believing in the cure. In order to get their patients to believe, the creative team worked with doctors to create a case that clips together to completely cover the chemotherapy intravenous bag. This case combined the painful medication with the magical world of superheroes and was given the name, “Superformula.” The new name and look of the treatment helped to change the perception in the kids by convincing them that the Superformula gave them their own superpower which could be used to conquer their illness. A simple innovation illustrating that great ideas don’t necessarily need to be complex.

After picking which brief they wanted to work on, the next step in the process for our teams was to dig deep into their brief. One useful exercise we did was to complete an Empathy Map as a group. This process involves getting into the shoes of another person and trying to empathise with what their daily life is like. For example, some with bladder control problems might hear - “Don’t they have nappies for adults you can wear?”. Someone struggling with temperature regulation might think - “Never being at a constant temperature had left me feeling powerless”. A person living with MS who experiences walking difficulties might see - “Busy, crowded streets and people who could knock me off balance.” 

Then we moved into the ideation process itself. We started with a classic brainstorm (go for quantity, withhold criticism, welcome wild ideas).

At the end of five minutes each group had dozens of ideas on Post-its. Next each person in team picked one that they wanted to develop and filled in an Elevator Pitch Card and pitched their idea back to the group.

Great ideas are formed when minds collaborate, so they next step in the process was to get one of the teammates to refine and improve on the original idea. To help them along we provided Innovation Cards with prompts. For example, can this idea be magnified? What could be substituted? Could elements be combined or rearranged? Each person then pitched back their augmented idea to their team.

The last stage in this part of the process was for the team to vote on which was the strongest idea from all the ones that had been developed so far and spend 20 minutes using the collective brain of the team to further elaborate on them. Three really strong ideas were chosen:

  1. The Grip Stick is a foldable walking stick with a difference. The stick has a detachable handle that can easily be attached and detached from any surface. A subtle support when standing for long periods, and a useful alternative when disabled toilets aren’t available, having the Grip Stick to hand will give people MS more confidence when going into unknown situations.
  2. TempBuddy is a companion tool for a person living with MS who is temperature sensitive. TempBuddy utilises a temperature sensor patch which is connected to a phone app to help them understand how their perceptions of cold and discomfort may be due to emotional feelings rather than actual physiological changes in their body. 
  3. The final idea was a sensor that would sit in the bladder and alert sufferers before they need to go to the loo.

The teams created a pitch video and submitted their applications to The World vs. MS - the whole process from learning about the challenge to submission within three hours!

The ideas are now with the judges and we look forward to hearing the outcome of the challenge in the next couple of weeks and see if any of our teams' ideas are in with a chance to win a share of the €100,000 development prize, and more importantly, see their idea brought to life. Good luck to all the teams!

Have a challenge that you need solving? Get in contact with us to host your own Idea Hack.