Stanford Biodesign Students Develop App To Help Injured College Athletes Heal, Mentally and Physically

Biodesign for Mobile Health student Christina Hagnar (second from left), course instructor Marta Zanchi (third from right), and other team members and advisors of the Resilete project.

Biodesign for Mobile Health teaches a proven process of innovation to address the needs of patients, providers, and other caregivers in delivering preventive care and treatment outside traditional venues such as hospitals and clinics. “I am passionate about wanting to help people lead healthier lives,” says Christina Hagnar, a second-year student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “I chose the Biodesign for Mobile Health course because it was an opportunity to do high-level, meaningful work at the intersection of technology and health care.”

When the students in the course were asked to form teams for their class project, Christina joined forces with Laura Lu, a second-year medical student, Mark Swerdlow, an undergraduate senior in premed and electrical engineering, and Jamie Anderson, who was pursuing a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Mobile Health for Biodesign challenges these teams to identify and research a compelling unmet healthcare need and then develop a health technology solution to address it. 

“The majority of us were Division 1 athletes or had been avid high school athletes,” Christina recalls. “As we talked, the combination of our personal experience with injury and a growing public awareness around the need to treat athletes in a more holistic manner led us to observe a gap in the treatment paradigm. While injured college athletes receive ample support in terms of physical rehab, there are no resources in place to help them stay mentally healthy when they can’t participate in their sport.”

Based on both their own experiences and first-hand user research, the team realized that injured athletes feel intensely isolated and frustrated. “The emotional trauma and sense of loss from being unable to participate in the sport that defines them can be so stressful that it actually slows healing,” Christina explains. Conversely, athletes with a positive outlook and strong social support recover faster.  “There was already an extensive body of research connecting mental health with physical performance. We decided to tap into that and create an app that would provide injured college athletes with emotional support and motivation throughout the injury and beyond.”

Inexpensive, accessible, anonymous, and on-target: the Resilete app

The solution that the team developed, which they dubbed Resilete, provides customized emotional support by allowing users to share their journey through recovery, connect with an athlete who has experienced a similar injury, monitor their daily progress, and access educational resources. As a mobile app, it is low-cost, convenient, and anonymous; all essential qualities for the target audience.

At the end of Biodesign for Mobile Health, when all class teams present their projects to a panel of experts from the mobile health (mHealth) field, Resilete was chosen as the best-in-class solution. Buoyed by this recognition, the team signed on to participate in the Biodesign Immersion Program to further develop their technology.

Support, Mentorship, and Learning

In the Immersion Program, course instructor Marta Zanchi encouraged the team to reach out to the professional community for help and feedback. “Our project is really interdisciplinary—it crosses into sports, health, and technology. The professionals in those areas that shared their knowledge and provided feedback were critical to our understanding our need area and how to better address it,” says Christina. “Our instructors provided an incredible level of support, and it has been really eye-opening to see what resources you can take advantage of as a student.”  

By the end of the academic year, the students had developed a much more robust app that holistically addresses the physical and emotional requirements of injured athletes. Although the Resilete team has put their work on hold as they face graduation and different career opportunities, they remain committed to this important unmet need. Christina, for one, notes that she is still very motivated to get the app into consumers’ hands, and considers the Resilete story open-ended.