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Hopkins undergrad team is finalist in global XPRIZE competition

Kenney Scholar Ryan Walter explains how team Aezon’s device could save billions in ER expenditures
Posted December 21, 2015

As much as $38 billion is wasted annually in the United States due to unnecessary visits to the emergency room, says Ryan Walter, Engr ’16, referencing research from the New England Healthcare Institute, a non-partisan think tank.

A biomedical engineering major, Walter is a member of the Aezon team, which is made up entirely of Johns Hopkins undergraduates and was recently named as a top-seven finalist for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, a $10 million global competition to develop a portable, medical diagnostic device for the consumer market, inspired by the “tricorder” used on Star Trek.
 
Having a device that would help inform doctor-patient conversations, as well as diagnose serious illness in its early stages, would help address the 70 percent of emergency department visits that would be handled better in a primary-care setting, says Walter, who received the Marci and Larry Kenney Scholarship his junior year and who here is citing a percentage based on a study conducted by Truven Health Analytics.
 
The three-part Aezon system includes the arc, a vitals monitoring unit worn around the neck; the Aezon box, which can test blood, urine, and saliva; and the Aezon smartphone app which continually communicates with the arc, analyzes symptoms and proposes possible diagnoses, and sends messages to the box to run specific tests.
 
Although Aezon members are all involved in many aspects of the project, Walter was primarily head of industrial design and taught himself computer-aided design programs to make 3D models. He credits being at Johns Hopkins for giving him these unique learning opportunities, like being part of Aezon.
 
“And receiving the Kenney Scholarship has allowed me to continue the experiences I’ve had here at Hopkins," says Walter. “Without that support, it would have been very difficult to stay.”
 
“We were going to do it somehow. I wasn’t going to throw this away without a fight, but the presentation of this scholarship eased our minds,” adds Walter, who also interned at the Applied Physics Lab through the Summer Program in Undergraduate Research (SPUR). Additionally, he tutors in the Homewood peer-led PILOT program and mentors a Baltimore City youth through the non-profit Thread, among other things.
 
The Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE winners will be announced early in 2017, and winning would mean Aezon could continue as a viable company dedicated to improving people’s health awareness and lowering health care costs. In the meantime, “I’m still taken aback by it all because it has definitely been the highlight of my college career,” says Walter.

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