Dr. Andrew Hamilton-Wright develops mobile app to help patients with common genetic disorder track their treatment BY ALOMA JARDINE Computer science professor Dr. Andrew Hamilton-Wright’s research has always revolved around biology and medicine. So when his colleague Gary Grewal at the University of Guelph contacted him to see if he would be interested in collaborating on a mobile app to help people with a condition called hemochromatosis, he was happy to get involved. “Gary was interested because he happens to have this condition,” Hamilton-Wright says. “He realized as a patient how much he wanted to keep track of what had happened in his treatment.” Hereditary hemochromatosis is a genetic, metabolic disorder that causes the body to absorb and retain too much iron. The iron overload can affect the liver, pancreas, heart, endocrine glands, and joints, and is potentially fatal if not treated. Hamilton-Wright says until the last couple of years the disorder was thought to be very rare. “Now they realize it is much more prevalent,” he says. “It affects one in 300 Canadians and it could be as high as one in 20 for those of Celtic descent. It is the most common genetic disorder in Canada, so a lot of people will really benefit from having this app around.” The bilingual app — known as Iron Tracker — was developed in co-operation with the Canadian Hemochromatosis Society and launched this past fall, supported by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and funding provided by Mount Allison. It is being downloaded by people all over the world. One of the key treatments for hemochromatosis is removing excess iron in the blood by drawing off a unit of blood up to twice a week initially, then every three to four months for the rest of the patient’s life. The app gives patients a single place to track appointments, treatment, and progress. “The symptoms are so general that by the time people are diagnosed with the condition, they have probably seen a few different specialists,” Hamilton-Wright says. “And then you find out you have this genetic disorder that you likely have never heard of. Psychologically, it is not the greatest thing. People are saying how much they like this because you can see yourself returning to health, you can see that better living is on the way.” Hamilton-Wright says the next phase of the project will be giving participants the option of sharing their data with researchers anonymously. “Right now there is very little data regarding many aspects of treatment,” he says. “Such data would allow for improved understanding of the disease and its recovery and lead to better treatment and general health for affected people.” This is the first mobile application Hamilton-Wright has developed, but he already sees the potential in it. “There are clearly a bunch of other things we can do with this app,” he says. “We are looking at potentially building tools for other conditions, like diabetes and blood sugar management.” And he has been able to integrate what he has learned into the curriculum — one of the projects his students will be tackling this year is building an app of their own. Two Mount A students, Sarah van der Laan (’14) and Thomas Alexander (’14), also had the opportunity to be directly involved in creating the app through their work as summer research assistants. “There are clearly a bunch of other things we can do with this app. We are looking at potentially building tools for other conditions, like diabetes and blood sugar management.” –Dr. Andrew Hamilton-Wright Find out more about the app at www.irontracker.ca and about the Canadian Hemochromatosis Society at www.toomuchiron.ca