NOOR NAQAWEH/THE VARSITY

The advancement of medical knowledge and treatment options relies heavily on research findings. Research, in turn, is dependent on the successful recruitment of volunteers.

Unfortunately, participant enrollment is a major roadblock in the research community, which impedes discoveries and causes costly delays.

Anthony Nazarov and Maroof Moral, psychology graduates from UTM, collaborated with Erica Tatham, McMaster University psychology alumna, to create a mobile app called ParticipAid. Armed with technological innovation, the trio strove to build a connection between researchers and participants that can enhance participant enrollment in research studies and clinical trials.

The beta version of ParticipAid will provide researchers and participants with a means of communication and is scheduled to launch this fall.

Since its inception in 2015, ParticipAid has accumulated numerous awards, including Best Pitch at I-CUBE’s Startup Pitch competition and first place at U of T’s Tri-Campus Hackathon BLUE3.

More recently, in May 2016, ParticipAid secured a $10,000 prize for Best Innovation at the Unlock Your Big Idea competition. The app was also granted SmartStart seed funding from The Ontario Centres of Excellence, a provincially-funded program with a mission to accelerate innovation through research.

In an interview with U of T News, Moral underlined the purpose and reason for their innovation. He emphasized that “participating in a research study is a great way to get involved in your local scientific community, give back to a noble cause and maybe even help make discoveries that save lives.”

Nazarov further noted, “There is brilliant research happening in our city, especially at the University of Toronto and its affiliated hospitals and research networks.”

ParticipAid allows participants to browse study listings with ease. It filters research studies based on interest, proximity, and eligibility. Participants can also discover online research studies that have been posted. The team hopes to incorporate the ability to schedule participation sessions and program reminders into the design of the app.

For the convenience of researchers, the app enables systematic organization of study postings and performs automatic pre-screening.

The new and streamlined process for participant enrollment will reduce the cost for recruitment and advertisement, allowing a reallocation of funds toward experimental design and implementation.

In addition to encouraging public involvement in research, ParticipAid seeks to establish meaningful and equal partnership between researchers and participants.

In many research studies, participants do not have a straightforward means to follow up their voluntary contribution to scientific research. Given the time and effort offered by volunteers, a sense of fulfillment is essential to encourage future involvement.

ParticipAid addresses this issue by seeking to involve volunteers not just as participants but as fellow contributors to medical discoveries. The goal is for participants and researchers to be “advancing research, together.”

The designers hope to include a personalized news feed that broadcasts updates from past contributions. By keeping volunteers up-to-date, the app will help volunteers to appreciate the role they played in accelerating scientific research.

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