Evening & Weekend Students Fight Lyme, One Hackathon at a Time

MBA students Shannon Herline and Faith Kirkpatrick are searching for better ways to treat Lyme Disease, a quest that might just bring them to the White House this fall.

Their team, called LymeDot, already won the first-ever hackathon to find innovative solutions to fight the disease, held at UC Berkeley last April. The hackathon was bi-coastal at both the Berkeley-Haas Innovation Lab/Skydeck at UC Berkeley and MIT in Cambridge, MA. Over 100 scientists, researchers, clinicians, and investors participated. The team’s proposal then finished among the top five at a second round hackathon held at MIT in June, netting the pair $5,000 in prize money.

Now, Herline and Kirkpatrick, both EWMBA 18s, are preparing to compete for a top prize of $25,000 at a final hackathon at MIT on Sept. 17. The winning team will receive its award at the White House Open Data Innovation Summit and have the opportunity to present their project during the event.

Team LymeDot, which also includes developer Jose Luis Pacheco, research scientist Michael Cohn, and PhD student Daniel Lopez Martinez, is competing with a proposed app that would let patients easily track their symptoms and treatment protocols on a mobile phone. The app is designed so that patients can easily share information with doctors, who can integrate the data with existing health records.

At previous hackathons, the team talked with Lyme specialists about the difficulty of understanding patients’ nonspecific, ever-changing symptoms and how the app could help solve the problem.

For Herline, who works in talent acquisition at LinkedIn, and Kirkpatrick, a senior community development specialist for the City and County of San Francisco, the app isn’t just an academic exercise. It’s personal. Herline’s twin sister, Whitney, has battled the illness for the last couple of years, and Kirkpatrick’s mother contracted Lyme Disease 20 years ago when the family was living in Rhode Island. In both cases, the disease has left their loved ones exhausted, often immobilized, and nearly always in pain.

Lyme Disease is a potentially devastating tick-borne illness that infects some 329,000 people in the U.S. per year. It’s transmitted through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. The symptoms can spread to the joints, heart, and the nervous system, causing fever, headaches, facial paralysis, arthritis, and fatigue.

Herline said part of the reason she enrolled at Berkeley-Haas was to learn about entrepreneurship, but with a social mission, which led to LymeDot. “Our goal is to help people with Lyme disease get better, faster, and not increase their financial burden,” she says.

Photo, left to right: Team members Michael Cohn, Jose Luis Pacheco, Faith Kirkpatrick, and Shannon Herline, with Lia Gaertner of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation