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HRB special prize winner at the BT Young Scientist 2024

Congratulations to Aoibheann Mangan from Mount Saint Michael Secondary School in Claremorris who designed a machine learning-based app to help children with asthma use their inhalers correctly.

Dr Anne Cody HRB and Aoibheann Mangan HRB Special prize winner at BT Young Scientist
Dr Anne Cody HRB and Aoibheann Mangan HRB Special Prize Winner at BT Young Scientist 2024

Existing research indicates that many children don’t use their asthma inhalers correctly.  And there is a lack of oversight in checking and improving inhaler technique.

Aoibheann takes up her story.

“My younger brother was diagnosed with asthma and when he started to use his inhaler, even I could see that he wasn’t using it properly and a lot of the medicine was sticking to his tongue rather than being inhaled.

“Proper drug delivery is so important for effective asthma management and if you have poor inhaler technique, then that’s going to lead to poor asthma control.

“With the help of the asthma Society of Ireland, I conducted a web-based survey to investigate and try to get a sense of the scale of the problem and how I might help to fix it.

“From that survey, which had 1064 responses, I discovered that just over half of parents had training in inhaler techniques when their child was first prescribed.  Nealy two thirds of parents reported never having a review of their child’s inhaler technique with a medical professional, nor reviewing it themselves.

“I set about designing an app that would use machine-based learning techniques to identify good and bad technique and deliver feedback to the user.

“With help from Andrew O’Sullivan and Ciara Thomas in Aerogen Labs in Galway, I was able to use their breathing simulator and identify a number of factors that affected inhaler technique. These centred around proper inhaler and head positioning. We found that small difference in positioning could have very large effects on drug delivery.

“With parental consent, I obtained images of children with good and bad technique and I trained a machine learning model to identify good and bad technique from those photos.

“We tested the app for 4 weeks on a group of volunteers and almost 100% of them found it useful and said that made them more much more aware of the correct inhaler and head positioning so that they achieve optimal drug delivery.  

“At the moment my app just uses images to identify good and bad technique, but I’d really like to extend it in the future so that that you can video the child or person using their inhaler and the app will give voice feedback in real time and offer suggestions for improved technique. “

Dr Anne Cody, Head of Investigator-Led Grants, Research Careers and Enablers, who presented Aoibheann with her award said,

“This was a fabulous project. It was so well thought out, thoroughly investigated, and most importantly, it delivered a genuinely useful new tool that could help children and young people with asthma.  The HRB is focused on supporting research that improves people’s health and patient care, so this project is a very worthy winner of our special prize.”

Aiobheann was the winner in the Senior Individual: Health and Wellbeing Category at the 2024 BT Young Scientist, along with the HRB Special prize.