Dubai: School students invent tech to read brain activity in schizophrenics

The four teenagers' innovative headband won an international competition



By Sherouk Zakaria

Published: Fri 25 Mar 2022, 5:43 PM

Last updated: Fri 25 Mar 2022, 10:53 PM

Four students from a Dubai school won a global competition for inventing a headband that reads brain activity in patients of schizophrenia.

The 10th graders Sana Azhar, Eman Fatima, Amna Qureishi and Ghania Ahmed from Pristine Private School outperformed 450 students from 38 schools in the UAE DigiInventors Challenge 2021, held by Scotland's Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre in association with Glasgow Warriors. The competition aims to encourage youth from Scotland and UAE to develop creative ideas for physical and mental health challenges.

The winning all-girls team developed the headband, equipped with electrodes and sensors, to detect unusual electrical signals coming from the sensory cortex. The headband then alerts the user and their doctor of a hallucination episode via an app.

Besides helping patients become aware of schizophrenic episodes, the app helps doctors monitor their patients' condition and provide timely medications.

"Mental health remains stigmatized in our modern society. We wanted to contribute to people whose voices are not heard, such as schizophrenia patients who go through their struggles alone," said Ghania.

In severe episodes, the headband also has an emergency button that alerts the doctor and the patient's close family with a click.

Globally, 20 million people are diagnosed with schizophrenia, a brain disease that causes hallucinations, delusions, disordered speech and thinking difficulties.

There is no cure yet for schizophrenia, and most symptoms are mitigated through medications.

The science students said the headband, made using cellulose and rubber, is designed to look like any regular headwear "to avoid singling out individuals."

"We will manufacture it in different colours and sizes to make it simple and easy to wear," said Amna.

"With no treatment in place, the future of people suffering from schizophrenia depends on new and innovative technology that helps them overcome their day-to-day struggles. We hope our Schizo-Bands can be a light of hope and guidance to those suffering," said Sana.

The headband can be developed to apply for people with other mental disorders, including anxiety, depression, autism, and insomnia.

Working prototype

With the design in place, the students are currently working with the competition's partners - Herriot Watt University and Okadoc – to build a prototype.

Eman said the plan is to develop the headband using biodegradable, sustainable and 100% recycled cellulose to ensure cost-efficiency.

"We aim to make these headbands available online and in as many countries' hospitals as we can. We would also make it available online," she added.

The students, who aim to pursue medicine, said the competition equipped them with new skills and gave them confidence in their ability to make a difference.

"With our new skill set and outlook on life, we aim to create bigger positive changes than before in the future. We hope that our experience inspires our generation that no matter who you are or where you are, there is always a chance to create change, even in our own small little ways," said Eman.

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Professor Ammar Kaka, Provost and Vice-Principal of Heriot-Watt University, said the university was working with the winning teams to develop their prototype to the market through state-of-the-art facilities.

"With our Innovation Hub and the Edinburgh Business School Incubator, we have what it takes to further support the winning teams."

He noted that DigiInventors Challenge succeeded in bringing teams together to address health issues close to their hearts.

"It resonated with our core values of inspiration and collaboration, making this an enjoyable experience for all involved," said Kaka.

Selection stages

The competition, open for the first time to students in both Scotland and UAE, saw 115 high school teams submit their ideas. Selected candidates joined a 2-day virtual boot camp to gain skills in entrepreneurship and digital health.

Four finalists in UAE and four in Scotland had to pitch their projects for potential investment from the partners. While the all-girls team were declared the UAE winners, another school team was declared the winners of Scotland.

The students received a trophy and iPad at an award ceremony at the UK Pavilion, Expo 2020.

- sherouk@khaleejtimes.com


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