In many ways it was a shirt that set Dubai student Ryan Merheby on the road to developing a pathbreaking healthcare system.
"I remember seeing a man in Disneyland who was sporting a shirt with the words ‘In need of kidney, O Positive’ emblazoned across the back," says the 17-year-old. "What shocked me was that his last resort was to try finding an organ donor in Disneyland."
Moved and keen to do something to help, Ryan got thinking and zeroed in on finding a solution to problems organ-deficient patients face. A quick Google search revealed some shocking facts. "I found that 10 per cent of organ transplants originate from trafficked and enslaved sources; 30 per cent of kidney transplants result in rejection or failed transplants; and the need for organs is rising far above the rate of donation resulting in a projected 2-3 per cent of the population requiring an organ transplant during their lifetimes," he says.
MIT and blockchain tech
The Lebanese expat who at the time had been exploring artificial intelligence (AI) at courses he attended at MIT and at Innosoft Gulf, and blockchain technology, wondered if he could use those technologies in some way to help solve the challenges plaguing the organ transplantation process.
A few months of work later, Ryan developed a smart organ allocation and provenance verification system he called Dhonor Healthtech.
"[This system] parameterises histocompatibility, age and years on a waitlist, to generate the most likely successful match between a donor and recipient to help doctors make allocation decisions quickly when an organ becomes available," says the Dubai resident.
The system was presented at the IQPC AI Hackathon in Dubai. Impressed, the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) partnered with Dhonor to develop a national organ donor registry and a smart allocation platform called Hayat.
The first phase of Hayat, launched last year, allowed for donors to register in three simple steps: signing a digital contract, informing their family, and educating themselves on organ donation and the legal and religious laws behind it.
Launch of Hayat
"The second phase of Hayat was launched in January of 2020, connecting the six transplant hospitals in the UAE," says the Hale student who is preparing to take his A-level examinations in June. "Today, close to 3,000 donors and 60 patients have registered on Hayat."
Why Dhonor? It is an amalgamation of "Donor" and "Honor", he says. "We wanted to create a solution that was reliable, effective and transparent, and I felt the word honor was the best way to articulate this mission."
A tech lover, Ryan, a finalist at the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition and winner of the Healthcare Innovation Cup at the Global Entrepreneurship Challenge, has also participated in summer programmes including UCLA’s summer institute for the gifted and MIT’s ID Tech.
"At UCLA, I studied engineering, nanotechnology, spacetime and wormholes, and global leadership. I also prepared some projects and made a presentation at the end of the course," says the young man.
At ID Tech MIT, he enrolled in a Deep Learning and Neural Networks course where he explored the fundamentals of AI and used Tensorflow to work on projects such as detecting pneumonia in chest X-rays.
What were the major takeaways from these sessions for him?
"The courses at UCLA encouraged me to look at different ways of understanding the world and thinking about problems. Enrolling in the course at MIT equipped me with an understanding of the current tools used to develop AI and neural networks, as well as improving my coding practices and proficiency in programming," he says.
Ryan is keen to pursue computer science as a subject in university, convinced it has enormous possibilities "to solve the problems of the human condition using technology. Going to university will help me gain more knowledge in the field and become better and more effective at solving problems using technology", he says.
Ryan, who was invited to speak as a panellist at the Unlock Blockchain Conference last year and was a finalist at the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab Competition, is keen to use technology to solve problems at a larger scale. "And I feel studying computer science will help me achieve this."