Nov. 27, 2020

Neuro Nexus students think collectively to improve mental health

Solutions for brain and mental health showcased at 2nd annual competition Nov. 30
8 Bit Cortex Screenshot
Players of 8 Bit Cortex' web game move their tobogganing avatar to avoid obstacles and get points Eden Redman

Feelings of isolation, stress and despair are common — but unlike the COVID-19 virus, there’s no easy test to check that your mental health hasn’t been compromised by the pandemic.

A group of university students is addressing this problem head-on, using daily online games to measure mental health and give people an ongoing assessment of their psychological wellness, including personalized suggestions to reach their desired wellness goals.

“Our vision is to see a world where people are engaged in cultivating their psychological well-being, armed with personalized insight into how to make that happen,” says Eden Redman, an undergraduate student in psychology at the University of Alberta and tech lead for the project.

One of 30 student projects to help the mind

Called 8 Bit Cortex, the gamified mental health platform is one of 30 projects featured in Neuro Nexus’ Demo Day on Nov. 30, where team-built prototypes aimed at solving challenges in brain science, neurological disorders, and mental health will be on display. Formed in May of this year, 8 Bit Cortex was just recently awarded Peoples’ Choice at Startup Calgary’s Launch Party.

Organized by graduate students and alumni in biomedical engineering and neuroscience programs at the University of Calgary, Neuro Nexus is a multidisciplinary competitive design program where student teams solve problems presented to them by clinicians, professionals, and researchers from across the province, and are guided at every step of the development process by those same subject-matter experts.

“Neuro Nexus catalyzes brain and mental health innovation by intelligently connecting subject matter experts with student talent over a six-week multidisciplinary competitive design program,” says Kristina Komarek, senior director of branding and marketing for Neuro Nexus.

Mental health this year's main focus

This year’s Neuro Nexus features more than 170 students, largely from UCalgary, University of Alberta and University of Lethbridge, combining expertise in engineering, life sciences, business, kinesiology, nursing, medicine, and computer science to bring their ideas to life.

While mental health is a focus area this year, other projects address challenges in the study of the brain, as well as the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders. Pan-provincial reach was made possible through a strong partnership with Campus Alberta Neuroscience.

Demo Day a showcase of solutions

Multidisciplinary student teams have developed a real-time visualization of functional networks underlying EEG recordings in collaboration with UCalgary researchers, applied novel machine learning algorithms to neural time series data with partners at a Waterloo-based startup, and designed a universal remote controller brain-computer interface for children with severe neurological disabilities.

Demo Day will showcase solutions developed during the competition and feature awards for the most deserving teams, as selected by a panel of judges from research, industry, and the entrepreneurial world, with $50,000 in funding to move their projects forward.

Student innovators can leverage this funding to undertake paid internships with neurotechnology companies, research work in top labs, or to drive forward a new entrepreneurial endeavor.

Innovation and entrepreneurship

The University of Calgary's biomedical engineering lead calls Neuro Nexus a showcase of innovation and entrepreneurial thinking. “Neuro Nexus is a great example of the transdisciplinary research and training occurring in biomedical engineering and across campus here at UCalgary, and the fact that it is run by these amazing students showcases entrepreneurial and innovation skills we are giving them to succeed," says Dr. Michael Kallos, PhD.

"With a new BSc in biomedical engineering launching next year, we plan on expanding activities in this area and establishing strong links to the growing Calgary life sciences industry."

This year, Demo Day will be held online, from 4 to 9 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 30. Find more information and register. 

Neuro Nexus 2020 is sponsored by Campus Alberta Neuroscience, Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program, Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute, Exergy Solutions, GSA Quality Money, Biomedical Engineering Calgary Initiative, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Owerko Centre at the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute, Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute at UofA, Applied Pharmaceutical Institute, Platform Calgary, Edmonton Regional Innovation Network, Branch Out Neurological Foundation, and NeurAlbertaTech.