Dozens of university students are participating in a special event in Calgary this weekend with the goal of creating some innovative ways to improve the field of medicine.

The Innovation4Health is a 72-hour-long ‘hackathon’ is a competition that pits 19 teams against each other to create medical models to use in the field.

“The idea here is to spark collaboration between engineers, scientists and physicians to catalyze the process of health care innovation,” said Abdullah Al-Ani, one of the co-founders of Innovation4Health.

Some of the models being worked on are cheaper, easier to transport and better suited alternatives for students who live in third-world countries.

“Right now, all of our SIM models are anywhere from $2,000 to $200,000 and they’re heavy as well,” said Kayla Kondics-Walsh, a participant in the competition. “That was just the pelvic model, so when you have the weight of the whole female body that’s carrying a fetus, you have the weight of the fetus and all the extra weight that comes with the placenta, umbilical cord, the larger than usual uterus plus the woman, you’re looking closer to 250 pounds.”

She says that all that weight in the models comes from the thick dense silicone as well as metal construction, so they need to think creatively when they build the alternative.

Kondics-Walsh hopes that the end product will have all the advantages of a professional model too.

“The plan is that the ultrasound will be correct enough that they can still get the same motion, they can still see the same things. If we change something inside; the size of the placenta, the location of the placenta, where the umbilical cord is, the size of the fetus, the level of amniotic fluid, that will be detectable through this ultrasound. We’re trying to make it as accurate as possible.”

Reilly Baggs is part of a group that’s working on a spinal model for students to practice epidural procedures and lumbar punctures.

“We have 3D printed the vertebrae and they we are molding the rest of the human tissue and casting it around that.”

Baggs says the project has taught her a lot about being economic with their resources as well as some other technical aspects of the biomedical industry.

“The first vertebrae that we printed were the wrong size so we had to go back and re-print them, but all those things are expected in a project like this and you just pick up where you left off and try to get through all of those problems.”

Baggs says she was drawn to the spinal project because it’s a very hands-on experience and it’s something that she can actually put together.

Once it’s done, Baggs says she hopes the spinal model will help reduce complications in patients who receive epidurals and similar procedures.

“Hopefully it will reduce pain, anything that can go wrong with those procedures, we hope to minimize all of those complications.”

The winning team in the competition will receive a grant to help bring the models to market, with the hopes of having them adopted by medical schools and teaching hospitals. The winners will be selected on Monday.

(With files from Brenna Rose)