Driven to Help Others

| May 4, 2018

USC Viterbi junior Rhea Choudhury combines entrepreneurship, tutoring and academic research to make the world a better place.

Choudhury with USC Viterbi Dean Yannis Yortsos at the third annual Scholarship Fellowship dinner (Photo/Steve Cohn)

For some people, the wait time at a hospital could mean the difference between life and death. This risk is especially compounded for stroke patients, as any delay in treatment may increase permanent damage caused by the lack of blood flow to the brain.

Rhea Choudhury, a current USC Viterbi junior and biomedical engineering major, is working to change this.

During her sophomore year, Choudhury, 20, along with three USC Viterbi teammates – Manjima Sarkar of neuroscience and biomedical engineering; Adam Walker, a biomedical engineering student; and David Sealand, a computer science major – entered the Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition, or MEPC, a start-up competition held jointly between the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC Marshall School of Business. Their idea? A company called INTRAM, which would create an app to eliminate pre-hospital delays specifically for stroke patients.

“Three out of four of us on the team all have family members who have experienced stroke,” Choudhury said. “We decided to take on stroke care as our overarching problem, and our subsequent research led us to note the gaps in current pre-hospital care for stroke victims, as well as possible optimizations to help patients get cheaper, more efficient treatment.”

And thus, INTRAM was born!

The INTRAM app works in the following way. First, the patient downloads the app once they enter the stroke at-risk population. The patient then scans their insurance card into the app, which creates a database of in-network hospitals and treatment facilities. Then, if the patient ever begins experiencing stroke symptoms, they can call a tele-stroke network through the app, speak directly to a physician, and receive an initial diagnosis from the comfort of their home.

In the event that a hospital visit is necessary, the app’s algorithm identifies the closest in-network hospital with the shortest wait time. INTRAM team members hope that this app will help minimize pre-hospital delays, thereby minimizing and hopefully eradicating permanent damage done by a stroke.

“Stroke is such a treatable condition and is so common that we knew we could make a difference in a lot of people’s lives by streamlining access to the right medication at the right time through comfortable, at-home diagnosis,” Choudhury said.

Great idea, right? The judges thought so, too. In fact, the idea was so successful that the INTRAM team qualified to compete in the 2017 National Academy of Engineering’s International Student Day Business Model Competition, an international competition held in Washington, D.C. last summer. INTRAM was one of only five teams representing the United States.

“It was an amazing experience,” Choudhury said. “We were in Washington, D.C. for four days and got to meet a lot of really cool people from around the world.”

Though they did not win the competition, the INTRAM team remains passionate about its app and potential benefits to society. Members intend to move forward with its development.

“It’s been a really interesting experience outside of classes and typical engineering activities to look more at the business side. With INTRAM, we’ve had the opportunity to take a product from conception to going to talks to working with people to try and make it happen,” Choudhury said.

Choudhury’s health-related interest doesn’t end with INTRAM. During her freshman year, she interned in a bioinformatics research lab at Tsinghua University in China for seven weeks over the summer. Her summer project involved looking at genomic cell counts and creating an algorithm to sort through them, with the ultimate goal of finding clusters and genes associated with cancer. She still works in a research lab on campus, doing sports performance analysis work with professional and collegiate athletes at the USC Biomechanics Lab.

A lab combining athletics and engineering was a dream come true, because Choudhury doesn’t merely excel academically, she also has a passion for sports.

Choudhury joined the ultimate Frisbee team during her freshman year. After just a month of playing intramural ultimate Frisbee, she joined the USC club team.

That talented team even made it to nationals in North Carolina in 2016, upsetting UC Berkeley at regionals to clinch a spot. Though Choudhury no longer plays for the team due to her school work and many extracurricular activities, she remains as involved as possible and remains close with many of her old teammates.

One such teammate is Sophia Zhou, a junior biochemistry major and Spanish minor.

“Being on the team together was a very special experience because neither of us had ever played ultimate before so we got to grow together on the field as our season progressed,” Zhou recalls. “We became close friends very quickly.”

Choudhury is also extremely community-oriented, volunteering at several community organizations. An organization she’s worked with in the past has been Coaching Corps, which recruits college students to coach various sports to students at local elementary schools; Choudhury coached ultimate Frisbee.

She currently volunteers at the Violence Intervention Program at L.A. County Hospital, working with underserved communities, foster children and victims of domestic, sexual or family abuse. As the largest child abuse clinic in the country, VIP cares for over 19,000 victims of abuse and neglect each year and is the only 24/7 child abuse clinic in Los Angeles County.

Choudhury also co-founded Violence Intervention Volunteers, an organization which allows USC students to volunteer at the child support center, shadow clinicians, and work directly with clients as a mentor and support system. As well as serving on the E-board of the organization, Choudhury works as a tutor and mentor to clients who have sought help from the mental health resources at the center.

“I love working with kids,” said Choudhury, a Bay Area native. “Here in L.A., I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with kids from all different backgrounds, and it’s been extremely eye-opening.”

Choudhury will be interning this summer at Edwards Lifesciences, a medical device company based in Irvine which specializes in cardiology and surgical equipment. She also anticipates pursuing education beyond her four years at USC Viterbi.

“I’ll either do a masters in engineering immediately following undergrad, or I’ll work for a couple of years and then get an MBA,” Choudhury said.

But as far as both short and long-term goals?

“Immediately after graduation I want to travel as much as possible, but eventually I want to start my own community-health oriented company because after INTRAM, I fell in love with the world of entrepreneurship,” Choudhury said.

Published on May 4th, 2018

Last updated on June 19th, 2018

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