Computer Science Students Design Apps for People Living with Sjogren’s

Inês Martins, PhD avatar

by Inês Martins, PhD |

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Under the supervision of a computer science professor at Knox College, students are applying their recently-learned skills in developing apps designed to help people living with Sjögren’s syndrome.

The professor, Monica McGill, began researching Sjögren’s after her daughter was diagnosed with the disorder five years ago. After collecting some data, McGill brought her research into her software development class and challenged her students: Could they use her findings to come up with new ideas for apps that could increase awareness about Sjögren’s and help people living with the disease?

Sjögren’s is the second most prevalent autoimmune rheumatic disease in the United States, affecting close to four million Americans. “It’s actually more prevalent than lupus, but people have heard of lupus. They don’t know how to pronounce this strange thing,” McGill said in a Knox College news story.

By the end of the last winter term, McGill’s students had successfully designed several prototypes to meet different needs identified by actual Sjögren’s patients during interviews conducted by McGill.

Two apps had frameworks already created: one, including general information about the disease in easily understood language; another was designed as a symptom tracker. “Because the symptoms are so unusual, it’s nice to have something particularly targeted for patients,” McGill said.

“I think at least getting basic information would have been helpful,” the professor said. “If someone’s sitting in the doctor’s office, for example, and they just learned that they had Sjögren’s, they could download this app, and their family could as well.”

For Musa Khan, a 20-year-old computer science major, the project showed him the human application of the technology skills he was learning.

“Throughout my class and the time I was working on our assigned project, I learned vast details about Sjögren’s, and I met with people who were suffering from it to gain their valuable feedback on what they need from an application,” he told Tricia Duke, the author of the Knox story.

“I always felt a need to help people through the various skills that I learned, and this gave me the perfect opportunity to do that,” Khan said.

McGill now will continue to work with students to develop these apps further, either through independent studies or by integrating the project into future courses.

“They’ll have a published product at the end,” the professor added. “It’s really great practical experience, working with a client and getting to test with patients.”

Read more about McGill’s computer science courses at Knox here.