Changemaker Challenge winners reach out to those expressing thoughts of suicide on social media


April 27, 2015

Expressions of suicidal thinking or intent should never be ignored. But what happens when a message of desperation is lost in the noise of internet chatter?

ARKHumanity – which came about at a hackathon co-sponsored by ASU – was inspired by this question and developed technology that scans Twitter for messages that suggest a risk of self-harm and connects the author with immediate support. The project has won the Arizona State University Changemaker Challenge’s top prize of $10,000 seed money. Download Full Image

Two facts drove the creation of ARKHumanity: In the U.S., one person dies by suicide on average every 13.3 minutes, and the incidence of suicide lowers when someone takes an empathetic interest and cares about a person’s well-being when he or she is in crisis. ARKHumanity extends this effort further by connecting people to resources such as a lifeline chat or hotline.

“It is an unfortunate reality that messages indicating distress in social media often receive no reply. This failure to respond can greatly exacerbate feelings of worthlessness and isolation that contribute to suicidal thinking,” said Jordan Bates, ARKHumanity’s team leader and an ASU doctoral student. “Technology is rapidly changing how we interact, and we should make sure we don’t lose our humanity along the way. Every person matters. No call for help should go unanswered.”

The $10,000 prize from Changemaker Challenge will significantly help the project by covering server costs, legal expenses and conference presentations to introduce it to local, state and national organizations. The group's goal is to make the technology available to select mental-health professionals by October 2015 and to update the technology as necessary to be able to expand response capacity. Ultimately, the team wants to develop an impactful platform that can be adopted by mental-health organizations locally and globally.

Kelli Donley, project manager and suicide prevention coordinator for the Arizona Department of Health Services, is a community supporter of the project.

“This technology is greatly needed to identify the warning language often used as cries for help before suicide attempts," Donley said. "Using social media to identify suicidal ideations is a creative idea that should be supported."

ARKHumanity was conceived in September 2014 at the Hacks4Humanity hackathon, a 36-hour event co-sponsored by ASU Project Humanities and EqualityTV. The goal of the program was to engage creative thinkers, artists, programmers, designers and anyone interested in creating technologies for the greater good.

The five-member team of ASU graduate and undergraduate students and community members came from varying backgrounds. They had never met beforehand and worked together over the two-day period to develop a working prototype of the innovative technology. They also won first place in that competition.

Under the guidance of faculty mentor and Project Humanities director Neal Lester, the team entered the Changemaker Challenge in November.

“This technology has proved an excellent demonstration of cross-disciplinary community-building and the impact that collaboration can and does have,” Lester said. “The ARKHumanity team members have become very close.”

The team says it’s important to include the humanities when trying to solve social problems, and believes outreach cannot be automated and still have the same positive effects. Ultimately, people will be needed to review a flagged tweet to verify it needs a response, and then separate, trained responders to do the outreach from existing partner organizations.

Teen Lifeline, an Arizona crisis response hotline that also uses social media to reach its demographics and which is also rolling out a text-message lifeline, is on board as a community partner. In describing the value of ARKHumanity, Clinical Director of Teen Lifeline Nikki Kontz remarked, “With hundreds of millions of people online, this has high potential to save lives.”

About the ARKHumanity team

Jordan Bates is a doctoral student at ASU in the Applied Mathematics for the Life and Social Sciences program. He is  working with the Center for Policy Informatics and was a fellow at Data Science for Social Good in 2013. He received his B.S. in computer science from Purdue University.

Bin Hong Lee is an undergraduate student at ASU majoring in software engineering. He has served as a judge for the First Lego League series in 2014 and is a former member of the Global Shapers Community Georgetown Penang.

Pat Pataranutaporn is a first-year student majoring in biological sciences at ASU. He is a researcher at the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology and a member of the Gifted Young Scientist Society.

Ram Polur is an epidemiologist at the Office of Cancer Prevention and Control at the Arizona Department of Health Services. Ram has bachelor's in biology with a minor in biochemistry, a bachelor's in computer science with a minor in applied physics, and a Master of Public Health.

Kacie McCollum is the doctoral chair for the School of Advanced Studies and a faculty member for the College of Humanities and Sciences at the University of Phoenix. She is also the CEO of Shiny Bird Farms. She received her bachelor's in political science from Benedict College and her master's and doctor of education in STEP/curriculum design and instruction from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Logan Clark

Media Relations Officer, Department of Media Relations and Strategic Communications

ASU researchers license technology to measure glucose in saliva, a potential boon for diabetics


April 27, 2015

The 340 million diabetes sufferers in the world have plenty to worry about: eating well, getting exercise and regularly monitoring the amount of sugar in their bloodstream. That last step is a crucial tool in treating the condition and preventing complications over the long run.

But it’s also a pain – literally. Most diabetics need to prick their fingers multiple times a day to draw blood samples in order to test their blood sugar. Jeffrey La Belle Download Full Image

Now, research from an ASU professor is being used in the quest for a non-invasive alternative.

Arizona State University engineering professor Jeffrey La Belle’s use of biomarkers – measurable indicators of wellness or disease – in body fluids to diagnose and monitor individuals’ health is finding a new application through a commercialization agreement with a United Kingdom-based technology development company.

Tekcapital has exclusively licensed a patent for a device that specifically measures glucose levels in saliva, which if successful could eventually replace current tests that require individuals with Type II diabetes to prick a finger multiple times each day to draw blood samples. This non-invasive alternative would be a significant benefit in convenience, comfort and treatment compliance for the more than 340 million people living with diabetes.

The device collects trace fluid samples from a biological surface for electrochemical analysis to detect glucose, a metabolic product in saliva, using disposable biosensor strips.

La Belle is an assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. The device patent was awarded to La Belle and co-inventor Daniel Bishop, who graduated from ASU in 2009 with a degree in biomedical engineering. Bishop is now co-founder and chief innovation officer of Qualaris Healthcare Solutions, a Pittsburgh-based medical-product development company.

Tekcapital seeks out university research that can fill client and market needs. Dr. Clifford M. Gross, Tekcapital’s executive chairman, said the company is excited about the potential of La Belle’s work.

“The self-monitoring of blood glucose is a significant industry, and we look forward to commercializing this technology with one or more leading medical-device companies that can benefit by making it easier and painless for diabetics to measure glucose,” Gross said.

“We appreciated the professionalism, speed and efficiency with which AzTE (Arizona Technology Enterprises) was able to negotiate and execute this deal, and we look forward to working with them on other intellectual properties in the future.”

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar, or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Hyperglycemia, or elevated blood sugar, is a common effect of uncontrolled diabetes and over time leads to serious damage to many of the body's systems, especially the nerves and blood vessels.

Earlier this year, Advanced Tear Diagnostics, a medical-products company based in Birmingham, Alabama, licensed the same technology to improve and expand the use of tear fluid as a means of detecting various ocular (eye) disorders by measuring certain biomarkers it contains.

That project led to research collaborations and funding support from Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

The measurements would help in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of ocular surface disorders – particularly in detecting and differentiating between bacterial and viral infections, including one of the most common infections, conjunctivitis, also called pinkeye.

Advanced Tear Diagnostics is providing $496,000 for the project over a year’s time and plans to commercialize the final product.

Both licensing agreements were negotiated by Arizona Technology Enterprises, ASU’s exclusive intellectual property management and technology transfer organization. AzTE works with ASU faculty, post-docs and graduate students to help move university inventions from the lab to commercial application.

“I have had many interactions with the very efficient and professional staff at AzTE in developing relationships with prospective industrial partners,” Dr. La Belle said. “We have had successes with both early- and late-stage IP.  AzTE really is a helpful resource we have here at ASU.”

“Dr. La Belle’s promising technology has the potential to improve the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of a wide range of medical conditions,” said Yash Vaishnav, AzTE vice president of business development for life sciences. “Tekcapital is also a great partner. They are focused and nimble in their efforts to bring promising technologies to the market. This deal was executed in record time, which is a testament to the quality of this research and the respective AzTE and Tekcapital models of commercialization.”

Licenses frequently lead to collaborative research relationships or sponsored research agreements that lead to long-term relationships between inventors and outside organizations. Over the past five years, AzTE has facilitated the flow of more than $37 million of industry-sponsored research into ASU labs.

In fiscal year 2014, ASU faculty working with AzTE set new record highs in invention disclosures (261), U.S.-issued patents (56), start-ups (12) and licenses and options (90). To date, more than 70 companies have been launched based on ASU discoveries. In just the past three years, these companies and their sub-licensees have attracted $163 million in funding from venture capital firms and other investors.