January 10, 2022

STAR benefits society

If someone told you cloud technology could help stop addiction, ensure diabetics take their insulin and save lives, would you believe it? Joy Alonzo, M.Engineering, PharmD. does – and has the research to prove it.

Alonzo, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy and co-director of the Texas A&M Opioid Task Force, hosts a number of research projects with Secure Technologies for Aggie Researchers (STAR). One, the Opioid Relapse Prevention Program Development, was a 2021 winner of the Presidential Clinical Research Partnership (PCRP) program. The project, now in prototype, is in partnership with the Brazos County Detention Center.

Alonzo mentioned the numerous benefits of cloud-based research and technology and STAR and said they are now crucial to her work by providing scalable solutions as projects mature from prototypes to operational products.

“I hope a lot of researchers (at Texas A&M) take a look at what is available to them via STAR,” she pointed out. “The STAR environment and Amazon Web Services (AWS) offer so many tools, training modules and consultants that are at your beck and call to help you structure the data in a way that optimizes analysis. The STAR environment tools simplify identification of correlations and data-mining algorithm development.”

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is prevalent among jail populations and can be treated with medication. When patients discontinue treatment, they often relapse after their release from incarceration. The project aims to create an artificial intelligence (AI) behavioral health program that targets stress and emotional response management to prevent relapse.

The project is an offshoot of a medication adherence project that currently targets type 2 diabetes through gamification and rewards for prompting patients to stick with their treatment plan.

“We are seeking FDA approval of the app as a medical device,” Alonzo says. “Using this app, we can basically turn one clinician into 10 since there is constant patient engagement without the need of face-to-face appointments.”

Alonzo is also part of the “Moonshot” project sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas to solve rural healthcare problems. The goal is to develop “game changers” and new innovations to improve treatment availability in those areas.

To do so, Alonzo has been studying Milam County, a seven-city area similar in size to Delaware. The location only has three ambulances and no hospital for 30-40 miles in any direction. Since a hospital transport requires a vehicle to be occupied for up to two hours for a round trip, emergency response time is less than optimal.

“An average ambulance response is over 45 minutes, so it is more likely you will die from something a person in College Station wouldn’t since the EMS response time is much higher in the rural areas due to distance.”

To address the problem, Alonzo uses cloud technology and a mobile app (LifeLine) to coordinate citizen responders with a minimum of basic lifesaving skills. When all ambulances are busy, dispatchers coordinate potential citizen responders and the app geo-locates the person closest to the emergency. The program falls under the Texas Good Samaritan laws for response. Although volunteers cannot transport patients, quality CPR on-site can improve survivability by 900 percent. 

“It turns out that in this county, there are a lot of folks who are off-duty EMTs, healthcare workers, volunteer firefighters and the like who are willing to assist after hours,” she explained. “This ambulance challenge has impacted the mortality rates in this county. We’re hoping to improve survivability with the LifeLine program and replicate its success in other rural counties, since 75 percent of Texas is very similar to Milam.”