The Global Hack is calling for help to address COVID-19 with innovative ideas

A global brainstorming marathon is throwing together brilliant ideas from around the world to rapidly develop solutions to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Photo Source: The Global Hack Facebook event
  • The Global Hack is a 48-hour online brainstorming marathon beginning on Thursday, April 9.
  • The event is open to anyone with a solution to address the COVID-19 pandemic and socioeconomic problems caused by it.
  • The prize pool is estimated at 120,000 euros, or about $130,000 U.S. dollars.

A worldwide event to rapidly combat the coronavirus by linking together brilliant ideas from around the globe begins Thursday, April 9.

The Global Hack is calling on the global tech community to develop and share breakthrough concepts addressing issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The online event, which will run April 9-12, is seeking innovative approaches to urgently needed solutions addressing the health and socioeconomic catastrophe unfolding before the world.

What is the Global Hack?

Photo Source: Screenshot / The Global Hack Facebook event

The hackathon is a 48-hour, organized brainstorming marathon. The first Hack the Crisis event began in Estonia in mid-March. Organized by the Estonian start-up Accelerate Estonia and Garage48 in just three days, the event brought together 1,300 people from 20 different countries. One of the ideas presented, the SUVE bot, is now used in government offices in Estonia. The bot is able to answer visitor's questions about the coronavirus in real-time. Another idea presented was Zelos, a platform that connects the most vulnerable, at-risk individuals with volunteers using a call center and task dispatch app to prevent further isolation.

"As this was getting into motion, during the [original] hack during those three days, the organizers were already seeing that this is going to be something huge," says Helery Pops, a communications volunteer for the Global Hack.

Soon after Estonia's Hack the Crisis, activists from 48 other countries took notice and organized their own hacks. Now, this week, the original organizers along with volunteers from several countries are putting together one unified, worldwide hackathon financially powered by European Commission, United Nations, and New America. Focusing on issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it's calling for innovators in countries across the globe to put their ideas into motion.

"This is our call to hack the crisis - not only to brainstorm solutions to prevent and stop the spreading of a highly-infectious disease but to think about how our lives will be different after this," said Kai Isand, head organizer of the Global Hack, in a press release. "The next step for the global movement is to come together in a unified hackathon event where teams will create projects that have a strong international socio-economic impact and create the needed rapid change."

How to Hack

Photo Source: The Global Hack Facebook event

So, here's how it works. First, you come up with a brilliant solution to address the COVID-19 crisis that falls within one of the tracklists on the Global Hack's website. You then share your ideas and find a team to collaborate with on the app Slack, which you can sign up for here (If you already have a solid idea and team, you have until April 9 to upload the project to Devpost). Once the hack begins, you and your team have 48 hours to come up with a solution. The hack will begin with a kick-off session this Thursday, April 9, at 1 p.m. UTC and end on Sunday, April 12. Some examples of categories include arts and creativity, economy, environment, governance, mental health, and education. You then join the appropriate Slack channel for your idea. If you don't want to submit your own idea, there are also challenges that require partners, so you can join one of those. Right now, the prize pool is estimated at 120,000 euros, or about $130,000 U.S. dollars.

Teams building the solutions and prototypes will also be in contact with mentors—experts and professionals in certain categories—who can help them bring their ideas to fruition. For example, if you developed an idea and needed help with the legal logistics, there would be a legal specialist who could talk you through it. Additionally, each track is lead by an inspirational line-up of entrepreneurs and global leaders including Steve Jurvetson, co-found of Future Ventures and board member at Tesla and SpaceX; the current and former presidents of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid and Toomas Hendrik Ilves; and former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, a past Big Think expert.

Thinking beyond coronavirus

While the idea behind the Global Hack is to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, Pops says that they are tackling the crisis through systematic solutions that reach further than just the virus.

"We want to make sure that the solutions that come out of it apply to a world after the crisis as well," she explains. As an example, she points to the SUVE bot invention as being an ideal solution because, while for now it may be utilized to help people understand what is going on with the health crisis, a year from now it may be a revolutionary way for governments to speak to their citizens.

"Those are the winning ideas, [those] that can be put into practice after the crisis as well," says Pops.

The concept of the hackathon might itself be one of those winning ideas. By uniting brilliant minds from around the globe with field experts, the Global Hack rapidly streamlines the process of a great idea becoming a real-life solution. Innovations that would have taken half a year under normal circumstances happen in days.

Because anyone motivated to act can participate, the hack also democratizes the chance to create a world-changing invention or prototype.

"There are some people who are joining who have had some resemblance of an idea for a long time but this gives them the platform to just do it super quickly and super well," says Pops. "And of course I think it gives people a lot of purpose as well."

Join the Global Hackathon here.

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Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
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The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

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fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

The experiments

The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

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