The University of Michigan has taken crowdfunding one step closer to its researchers and the general public. A platform called WellSpringboard allows the public to pitch research ideas, and once a U-M researcher picks up the ball, it’s the public’s turn to donate online. The initiative is likely to bring research closer to the people engaged in scientific questions.
“This is a great way to get together as a community to address what our patients are passionate about,” said Dr. Peter Higgins, one of the first scientists to convert an idea from WellSpringboard to a research proposal.
Higgins is a gastroenterologist working to improve the quality of life of patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and as can be the case on other social platforms, he found his ideal partner in Eric Polsinelli — a patient suffering with severe IBD.
“It was a challenge to do anything,” said Polsinelli in a press release. “Losing control of your body and your life is difficult.”
Polsinelli initially approached WellSpringboard with no intention to propose new research. His experience of resources overflowing with advice but not backed up with solid research made him hope that the platform could be an information source.
“A lot of what you find online is anecdotal or pseudoscience,” Polsinelli said. “I’d like to see research that shows evidence of what you can do to improve your physical or mental health while dealing with IBD.”
Higgins’ project will do just that. “This is a project we’ve been pondering for a while,” he said. “Flares come out of the blue and disrupt patients’ lives, so we’re going to incorporate an activity tracker to see if it helps identify when someone is at risk for a flare.”
The project plans to enroll patients who recently had an IBD flare and have started taking steroids. Researchers will monitor patients’ heart rates, sleep, and count their steps. These features are all involved in flares, and changes in their patterns might predict a flare in advance, the scientists reasoned.
“We thought an activity monitor might be able to measure those subtle changes in sleep, heart rate, and activity that occur before a flare begins,” Higgins said. “If it works, we may be able to help IBD patients know when a flare is coming, allowing them to address these warning signs with their IBD doctor before the clinical symptoms of a flare begin.”
Every pitched idea on WellSpringboard has 30 days to reach its fundraising goal once a scientist accepts the project. If the financial goals are not met, the raised money will be allocated to another project within the same research category, which currently includes children’s heart disease and cancer, sleep problems and adult diabetes, in addition to IBD.
“We hope that the innovative combination of crowdsourcing research ideas, and crowdfunding the ones that researchers agree to study, will prove successful and be a model for other academic medical centers and research institutes,” said Matthew M. Davis, the U-M scientist who led the team that launched WellSpringboard.