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Crowd funding for medical research? U-M team wins national prize for innovative approach

ANN ARBOR, Mich. Crowd funding is all the rage these days, with everyone from charities to start-up companies offering ways for masses of people to kick in small amounts of money that together can make big things happen.

But could that concept work for medical research?

A University of Michigan Health System team wants to find out and they have just won a national prize for their prototype of a web-based platform to do it.

Today in Washington, D.C., the team accepted a $40,000 award in the prototype category of the PCORI Challenge, a competition sponsored by the federally authorized nonprofit Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

The concept, called WellSpringboard, would make it possible for anyone to propose and chip in money for ideas for new patient-focused research studies -- and for researchers to propose that they get the money and carry out the study if enough dollars are raised. The site would focus on comparative effectiveness studies those designed to compare different prevention, diagnostic or treatment options.

The team, led by U-M physician and health researcher Matthew M. Davis, M.D., MAPP, will invest the prize money directly into further development of the WellSpringboard concept, to move it toward an eventual launch.

"We want to bring the public's voice into the world of health research, to allow them to ask for answers to questions that are most important to patients of all ages and the people who care for them," Davis explains. "We also want to make it possible for researchers to join the virtual exchange of ideas that can attract broad public attention and investment. Researchers will be able to apply for the funding raised by the public, through a scientifically rigorous review process that involves scientists and non-scientists."

Davis worked with U-M's Anna Daly Kauffman, BA, and Dianne C. Singer, MPH, faculty colleagues Joyce Lee, M.D., MPH, and Susan Woolford, M.D., MPH, and staff from the Ann Arbor web development firm Inner Circle Media, to develop the WellSpringboard concept and prototype.

Davis, who is an associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the U-M Medical School and associate professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, says the WellSpringboard concept aims to connect patients and their research ideas with researchers who can carry them out.

As the prototype moves closer to reality, Davis and his colleagues envision that members of the public and researchers will be able to create and upload brief videos showcasing their ideas or expertise.

By visiting the WellSpringboard website, the public could then select research ideas to contribute funds to, in any amount and knowing that their money would only be used if the concept reaches a certain threshold and a researcher is chosen to carry out the study.

"Even if someone couldn't contribute financially, they could still say that they are willing to take part in the study, if that's possible," explains Davis, who notes that researchers often struggle to find enough people to participate in their studies.

Members of the public could also volunteer to review the proposals from researchers, similar to review processes that PCORI has already established. A panel made up of expert reviewers and members of the public would choose the winner for each idea that gets funded through this unique platform.

About the PCORI Challenge

The PCORI Challenge awarded prizes for both concepts and more fully developed prototypes of "matching" tools or systems that could effectively link patients and researchers interested in developing and conducting projects in the field of comparative effectiveness research.

"The PCORI Challenge has shown the innovative ways that technology could be harnessed to facilitate and encourage connections and real collaboration among patients and stakeholders," said Anne Beal, M.D., MPH, PCORI's Deputy Executive Director and Chief Officer for Engagement. "Patients, caregivers, clinicians, and other stakeholders must be actively involved in the development and conduct of health research to fill the knowledge gaps that hinder health decision making. We hope that the recognition this competition provided will encourage these teams to continue to develop their technologies into fully functioning patient-research matching systems. We'll follow their progress with great interest."

PCORI issued the challenge in collaboration with Health 2.0, a San Francisco-based company that promotes and showcases new technologies in health care through conferences, code-a-thons, challenge competitions, and more. The winning concept and prototype were announced at the fourth annual Health Datapalooza, the national conference on innovative and effective uses of health data.


Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System

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