Doha, Qatar: Several weeks into its Season 14, Qatar Foundation’s Stars of Science continued to highlight mental health challenges among youth in the Arab world, with two of its innovators addressing separate issues in this field with their inventions.
Noraldin Al-Deri, a PhD candidate in the biology of neurodevelopmental disorders, is working to tackle a problem he’s seen first-hand – potential misdiagnoses of neurodevelopmental disorders in children. Al-Deri personally witnessed the consequences a misdiagnosis can have on affected children and their families.
“Our family friend struggled with a misdiagnosis growing up, and I saw how they struggled financially and emotionally as a result – a misdiagnosis can mean we are losing a child’s potential forever,” said Al-Deri.
Al-Deri’s invention, the Infant Intellectual Auto Classifier, aims to resolve the issue by assessing a non-verbal child’s intellectual capabilities between their first four months to three years – a critical period in their development path. An algorithm collects behavioural and physiological data from children, including heart rate, eye movement and facial reactions, as they watch an animated video playing on a screen and respond to the purposeful stimuli. Based on this information, the algorithm classifies the possible zone of child’s intellectual ability and assists in the proper diagnosis tasks of the physician accordingly.
Lebanese biomedical engineering student Georges Jreij set his sights on addressing the unrelenting spontaneity of meltdowns in children with autism spectrum disorder. Like Al-Deri, he observed how this challenge can impact the life of the child and those around them through a case in his extended family.
His product, the Wearable Autism Meltdown Predictor, combines a variety of sensors to collect data – such as changes in heartrate and skin dampness – with artificial intelligence (AI) to predict meltdowns in children with autism. The AI algorithm also ‘learns’ over time, which is refined to more accurately detect meltdowns through a training phase and by parents’ input.
“Even though every case of autism is different, helping families prepare better in the case of meltdowns is something that holds universal benefits,” said Jreij.
“I wanted to make a product that could help make the lives of these families easier – regardless of where their case lies on the autism spectrum and their socioeconomic status,” said Jreij.
Al-Deri and Jreij’s participation on the show shines a spotlight on a generational problem. In the 12th Annual ASA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey – published in 2020 – nearly two-in-five (38 percent) of young Arabs said they knew someone with mental health issues. A majority of respondents (56 percent) also claimed that it is difficult to get quality medical care for mental health issues in their respective countries.
According to Sultana Afdhal, CEO, World Innovation Summit for Health, Qatar Foundation’s (QF) global health initiative, there is a pressing need for more innovations that make mental healthcare more accessible and effective for the region’s youth.
“There are still shortfalls in mental healthcare systems throughout the region, and we need novel technological solutions that can help plug these gaps and supplement existing resources,” said Afdhal.
“Ensuring the mental well-being of our next generation is vital to sustaining our region’s development in future, and so we need the mental healthcare apparatus to keep pace with the needs of our youth.”
Mental healthcare in the region also needs to overcome a negative stigma. In a 2021 study, researchers from Hamad Medical Corporation and Primary Health Care Corporation found that mental health literacy in the region was lacking among the public, and even in healthcare professionals, which resulted in negative attitudes toward mental health conditions.
According to Dr. Omar Mendoza Mahmood, Acting Clinical Director of Psychology at Sidra Medicine and Assistant Professor of Psychology at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, innovators like Al-Deri and Jreij are needed to help encourage better awareness of mental health in the region.
“Mental healthcare is a priority for Sidra Medicine and Qatar,” said Dr. Mahmood. “With help from the next generation of brilliant minds in the Arab world, we are working to ensure that we can continue to support the mental wellbeing of our communities well into the future.
“Our youth have an opportunity to reshape the conversations that surround mental health in our region. Initiatives like Stars of Science give them a platform to discuss these issues with the wider public, which can hopefully challenge the long-term stigmatization of mental healthcare.”
The range of support services at Qatar Science and Technology Park’s (QSTP), where SOS is also hosted, includes mentorship and incubation and funding programs, and further support for SOS participants in developing and commercializing their projects.
Professor Mohamed K. Watfa, Associate Dean and Graduate Program Director, Australian University in Dubai (Wollongong), Dubai, UAE, and contestant on Season 4, served as guest judge in this week’s episode. He lent his engineering expertise to the Season 14 contestants to help them refine and prepare their inventions for the upcoming design and testing phase of the competition.
Stars of Science will air every Friday and Saturday from September 02, 2022, to October 14, 2022, on six channels in the region and online. Please visit the broadcast guide for channels and timings, starsofscience.com.
About Stars of Science:
As the premier innovation show in the Arab world, Stars of Science – the edutainment TV initiative of Qatar Foundation (QF) – empowers Arab innovators to develop technological solutions for their communities aiming to improve people’s well-being, provide financial opportunities to their local citizens, and advance sustainable development.
Over a 12-week process, the contestants demonstrate the effectiveness of their solutions in a shared innovation space, competing against time with the support of a team of experienced engineers and product developers.
An expert panel of jurors assess and eliminate innovators and their projects every week across several prototyping and testing rounds, until three finalists remain to compete for a share of the Grand Prize. Jury deliberation and online voting from the public determine the rankings of the two winners.
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About Qatar Foundation:
Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) is a non-profit organization that supports Qatar on its journey to becoming a diversified and sustainable economy. QF strives to serve the people of Qatar and beyond by providing specialized programs across its innovation-focused ecosystem of education, research and development, and community development.
QF was founded in 1995 by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Father Amir, and Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, who shared the vision to provide Qatar with quality education. Today, QF’s world-class education system offers lifelong learning opportunities to community members as young as six months through to doctoral level, enabling graduates to thrive in a global environment and contribute to the nation’s development.
QF is also creating a multidisciplinary innovation hub in Qatar, where homegrown researchers are working to address local and global challenges. By promoting a culture of lifelong learning and fostering social engagement through programs that embody Qatari culture, QF is committed to empowering the local community and contributing to a better world for all.
For a complete list of QF’s initiatives and projects, please visit: www.qf.org.qa