Imperial College London, the sixth-best university in the world, involves the work of a few British-Bengali minds who changed how medicine is designed. And now, a few years later, the students are generating remarkable output, catching the tech industry’s attention.
In 2015, one of the module leads at the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial shared an idea about how he’s trying to change how students learn technology within medicine. The goal was to design a course to provide second-year MBBS students with practical experience and academic studies. After the proposal was accepted, the Imperial School of Medicine named the module ‘CRI’ or Clinical Research and Innovation.
CRI is a prominent and sought-after module in the school of medicine. Given the limited slots, students moving into the second year are presented with a form where they can choose a particular basket, such as technology. The premise of this module is to inspire students to become researchers and scientists and allow learning about technologies such as artificial intelligence. The overwhelming response from the students in 2017 brought to light how much of a lasting effect CRI could have.
Dr. Sohag Saleh, a British scientist of Bangladeshi descent, was instrumental in developing this component. While Sohag designed and deployed the regimen, this writer was one of the 30+ faculty members and externals who was part of operations, leading small groups of students. As a scientist with the first-hard experience of overseeing a module at one of the top universities in the world, the writer will write about the profound effect that the CRI module had on the students and how Sohag’s work in the School of Medicine has shifted the way students feel about their coursework.
The introduction of this module uncovered how many students were genuinely interested in fields such as MedTech, where they have the prospect to influence scientific endeavors as a doctor further. I have taught six classes since 2017, and the same remark amazes me: “I had no idea how much technology has progressed; in fact, I’m glad that I became privy to this world of startups.”
As the Research Lead, I work closely with the students, planning and executing workshops. Sohag is the co-lead on my CRI experience; he occasionally joins me. But as he took on bigger roles within the faculty, I continued managing the students. CRI makes up about 30% of the second year’s weight; therefore, it is the most important module because they have to pass to move to the third year.
I have been in charge of computational neuroscience, virtual reality, AI, and blockchain research projects since 2017. In this piece of writing, nevertheless, I want to zero in on the class of 2023 since they are the ones who have impressed me.
Earlier this year, I hosted two groups of four who worked on the impact of artificial intelligence in MedTech. With ChatGPT being what it is, Sohag and I gave a lot of thought to producing solid research on AI rather than social media hype that’s a few kilometers above the pinnacle of Everest. The word AI has become so unfashionably familiar that people have started to think of AI as a personal robot. But my teams needed to work on something extraordinary, challenging, and doable. Their task was to design and develop an app, work on the AI architecture, design their research questionnaire, collect research participants, carry out the research, and produce the results in three weeks.
First, team NUTRISCAN developed the theory of using AI and blockchain to keep track of macronutrients. Kirthana from the team says, “The fundamentals are that someone would take a picture of their food, and the app would then use the food to track nutritional information.”
Their closest market competitor, MyFitnessPal, has a similar feature, but to track macros, users must manually add the ingredients using a form. NUTRISCAN’s idea was to automate the process, and for that, Khushi and Akshita designed a type of AI called Convolutional Neural Network or CNN. Unlike ChatGPT, a type of Large Language Model or LLM, NUTRISCAN’s CNN is widely used for image detection and recognition. Once the images are scanned and processed using a CNN, the users will receive a reward for interacting with the application.
Kirthana and Kelina concentrated on creating a blockchain-based reward mechanism for the users. The idea was to provide them with blockchain-enabled tokens to be bartered as a reward once they fulfilled a specific target. Unlike other reward mechanisms, a blockchain-based incentivization program is fully automated. It uses a software development feature called ‘Smart Contract,’ widely used within the blockchain industry. After devising the prototype, team NUTRISCAN collected over 140 responses within five days. Any number above 100 is flabbergasting, given their limited time to collect data. After they analyzed their data, the team found something even more interesting.
When motivation is high, people tend to be receptive to ideas like ‘streaks,’ which count how many sequential days the users track their macros. But from the research, the team found that females tend to lose the motivation to keep up with streaks. The streaks, if well-designed, can persuade users to continue for a long time, resulting in a sharp uptick in engagement. However, they found that females over the age of 25 tend to quickly lose that motivation, whereas males reach that stage at the age of 18. Older people, however, tend to stick with daily routines as they get into the process of habitual performance. In addition, 83% of the respondents chose AI to keep track of their nutrition, while 17% chose manual attempts, proving the demand for the app.
On the contrary, LUCID designed an app for scanning texts from posters or screens, which can be converted into a far more readable format. An amalgamation of OCR and Google Vision AI can create functional benefits for users with special needs.
LUCID proposed the idea of an Augmented Reality app – the technical process was to use the camera to take pictures of posters and use a combination of AI-enabled Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to improve reading accessibility. LUCID’s app used Apple’s AR Kit, a platform created for developers to design augmented and mixed reality applications within Apple’s ecosystem. Their product and research design primarily targeted people with visual challenges or neurodevelopmental disorders. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common condition that affects people’s behaviors. In the UK, ADHD is listed as one of the mental health disabilities per the Mental Health Act (1990).
“It’s very important to be able to modify the fonts of a document to make it more readable. Otherwise, it’s difficult to keep my attention span. And I read at least 20 to 30 documents daily,” says one of the writer’s friends, currently working as a legal consultant in London and participating in LUCID’s research. “Adobe’s OCR is very useful, but an app like LUCID can help many people with ADHD-related disorders.”
Emily Wagner from LUCID says, “Mixed reality has a huge potential to break barriers within medicine, especially with accessibility and disability. The way that disabled people perceive the world differently from others can be a huge barrier for them. So, if mixed reality becomes more mainstream, we can add accessibility features and make people feel more connected. Right now, mixed reality is used largely as a gimmick; hopefully, we can push for it to use AR/XR for good.”
LUCID’s emphasis on altering the connotation from ‘gimmick’ to ‘useful’ exhibits how any emerging technology could benefit interactive platforms. If emerging technologies were designed to improve human usability, why isn’t technology like XR or AR growing fast? The answer to this question may boil down to profitability. Any technology’s potential is pushed through the bottleneck of strict commercial viability, and the gatekeepers at the end of that bottleneck are the towering profiteers with a profitable intention to hold end-users captive. Investors feed tens of millions to startups to expand at an accelerated rate. If a technology can be monetized easily, then it has the power to grow. Despite this reality, applications like LUCID must be in the limelight because its impact within MedTech exceeds its need for commercial utility.
Nevertheless, the capacity of a month-long module to alter students’ frame of mind and push them into the open horizon of limitless career potential was the true motive behind CRI’s creation. Over the past seven years, my team members have gone on to become presidents of different societies at the university, while others have taken the unusual route of completing a BSc in Business Management, intercalated with their MBBS degree.
Last year, during their final presentation, tech industry leaders Andrew (CEO, Plexal) and Russell (Director, Plexal) informed the students how impressive they were given their three-week tight deadline. CRI has formed a new cohort of innovators and entrepreneurs with an MBBS degree, paving the way to discover their secret talents as engineers, creators, and technologists. Callum from LUCID says, “It has opened my eyes and helped me realize what I can do and the opportunities I will have in the future.”
CRI is a microcosm within academia. Typically, I wouldn’t expect a group of individuals to sit in a meeting booth for eight hours at a time and get things done. Yet, they did. Further, during these three weeks at Plexal, they had a ton of fun, demonstrated by a film I posted on YouTube. There are also Instagram reels, such as the one with Akshita from NUTRISCAN, offering a tour of her office. The experience is designed to loop medical students into flows of technological transformation that can aid them for a lifetime. More notably, it teaches them teamwork under extreme pressure, illustrating how a cluster of skills can be exploited to build a startup idea.
“We’ve all worked together. We all had different perspectives, which is good for teamwork. It allows comprising different views because we all had different creative, analytical, or organizational strengths,” shares Kelina Lowther-Harris from NUTRISCAN.
While it’s noteworthy that Imperial is compared to Ivy League, the people who worked for me are between 19-22. They believe that this module bettered develop their confidence and character.
Thanks to the idea of a British-Bangladeshi scientist and Imperial’s continuous effort, it is now visible how a 30-day module can alter people’s perceptions. AI has been taken out of the pandora’s box, and now, Sohag and our students are using it as an apparatus to stem pathways that will make space for doctors with immense talent.
Farabi Shayor is a 2X author, consultant, and scientist recognized by the Science Council in the UK. He’s a British resident of Bangladeshi lineage and works with both the public (government) and private sector, providing technology consulting services.