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Citizens in medicine — hackathon

Engineers and doctors came together to the Copernicus Science Centre in order to find ways of improving a medical procedure implemented by foetal surgeons to save the lives of babies with diaphragmatic hernia in the foetal period.

Participants of the hackathon, which took place on Saturday, November 26, 2016, had to deal with a real problem, which is an everyday issue for Prof. Mirosław Wielgoś, MD, PhD and Przemysław Kosiński, MD, PhD from the 1st Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Medical University of Warsaw.

Professor Mirosław Wielgoś, MD, PhD and Przemysław Kosiński, MD, PhD are the only ones in Poland — and among the few in the world — to use the FETO method aimed at saving the lives of children with diaphragmatic hernia in the foetal period. One in 4,000 foetuses are affected by this condition globally, which means that in Poland approx. 50 families per year have to face such diagnosis. The condition may cause the airways to be pressed by the abdominal organs that enter the chest cavity through an opening in the hernia, which can result in death. The method used by the Polish doctors results in a two-fold increase in the chance of survival. It involves a procedure consisting in placing a balloon filled with physiological saline inside the trachea of a foetus in the mother’s womb. The treatment is performed with the use of a fetoscope — an advanced device that allows inserting a camera into the foetus’ trachea. The balloon “plugs” the trachea, blocks the outflow of the liquid produced in the foetus’ bronchi and improves the growth of lung tissue.

One of the method’s imperfections is the necessity of removing the balloon from the foetus’ air passages before birth. If labour takes place before the date of the second operation (when the balloon is removed), the baby is born with the blocked trachea and time is all that matters — immediately after delivery, obstetrician has to pierce the balloon with a needle through the layers of the newborn’s skin and organs. Doctors have offered cooperation to the CSC hoping that together they will encourage the multidisciplinary environment to face the problem and try to solve it.

The idea was successful and on 26 November 2016 the Copernicus Science Centre hosted a hackathon that brought together doctors, designers, engineers, material scientists and researchers specialising in different fields. Their meeting resulted in two very promising solutions.

A hackathon, made of words hacker and marathon, is defined as a marathon of creative thinking. In this context hacker is not a bad guy trying to steal our data on the Internet but rather a person who can think out-of-the-box and find an original solution to a problem — not necessarily related to computer science. Here, the participants’ task was to create a prototype of a medical device, and the role of hackers was taken on by doctors, engineers, designers, artists and students of medical and technical faculties. The result of their 10-hour work exceeded everyone’s expectations and proves that our citizens are full of unutilised creativity potential. Therefore, establishing space where creativity can blossom could give rise to increased innovation. In this case — hopefully — saving children’s lives. The event’s organisers believe that our country needs a dialogue between the world of medicine and technology. Enormous resources of scientific knowledge allow one person to reach perfection only in one field, whereas a hackathon is a perfect form of cooperation as it enables specialists from different fields to meet and work together.

During the Citizens in medicine hackathon, four teams in only 10 hours prepared four fantastic projects. Next, the jury chose two ideas that stand a chance to be implemented in real life. FetoInduktor and balloon with “sushi” valve activated by induction use induction heating and potentially will allow for quick opening of the balloon valve.

“When we started our Citizens in medicine hackathon, we didn’t realise that it may bring such fantastic results. This Saturday will remain in our memory for a long time. It was the first time in Poland when we manged to gather so many different specialists in one place and ask them to use their creativity to work on a real medical problem. Although there is a long way from the project to a working medical device, we will use the potential unleashed during the hackathon. Some say we are the pioneers in Europe,” says Mateusz Pawełczuk, the hackathon’s coordinator from the Copernicus Science Centre.

Distinguished projects:


Authors: Bartłomiej Wysocki, Karolina Chełchowska, Marcin Heljak, Adrian Chlanda, Karol Czechowicz, Agnieszka Ruta, Bartosz Godek.

The project is based on the solution used in the original idea. Modification has been introduced in the balloon’s valve: the team has designed a valve in the shape of a thread roll made of “intelligent” polymer with embedded ferromagnetic particles. In the production process the polymer memorises the demanded shape to which it returns at any moment after being heated to a temperature of 50–60 ºC. If such material is used to produce the balloon’s valve the only thing one will have to do to recreate it will be to put it back into the primary shape. Its designers claim that it will be easy to use even for a non-experienced person as it is non-invasive, safe and fast. The only difficulty lies in creating the appropriate composite.

Balloon with “sushi” valve activated by induction

Authors: Marek Marzec, Mikołaj Kutka, Ewa Ramus, Wiktoria Kowalska, Martyna Maciąg, Aleksandra Byczyńska, Monika Zasztowt, Aleksandra Saletra.

The preliminary assumption of the designers was to modify the balloon’s valve. Inside there will be “intelligent” material (NiTi – nitinol), which — like in the project of the first team — will change its shape after heating. The core made of nitinol wire will be covered with copper wire, which will allow the heating by electromagnetic induction — and as a result returning to the primary shape and opening of the valve.

These two distinguished projects, as complementary, have a chance of being implemented and used by surgeons.


  • hacathon
  • medicine
  • cooperation
  • citizens
  • citizen science


Copernicus Science Centre

Copernicus Science Centre conducts modern science communication through interactive exhibitions addressed to different groups (adults, adolescents and children), shows and workshops on scientific themes, debates and discussions as well as activities from the borderland of science and art. The mission of the Centre is to encourage personal engagement in discovering and understanding the world, as well as taking responsibility for the changes occurring around us.