8th annual EDGE in Tech Symposium celebrated ingenuity, inclusion in health care technology

Collage of three photos of different women standing at a podium. From left are Tsu-Jae King Liu, Ijeoma Uche and Camille Crittenden.
Tsu-Jae King Liu, Ijeoma Uche and Camille Crittenden speaking at the 2024 EDGE in Tech Symposium.

The CITRIS Innovation Hub’s flagship public event, hosted this year at UC Davis, rounded off the first-ever weeklong Innovation Intensive, an exploration of human-centered health tech that spanned four University of California campuses.

The 2024 EDGE in Tech Symposium: Advancing Health Tech for All — the hallmark public event of the CITRIS Innovation Hub, a program of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS) — took place Friday, March 8, on International Women’s Day, at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at the University of California, Davis.

The sold-out symposium gathered more than 200 attendees, both in person and online, to celebrate innovators from diverse backgrounds who are working to make health care technology more inclusive and equitable. Participants and speakers from a wide array of industries came together to investigate how the health tech sector can further its efforts to develop just and effective solutions, especially in areas of emerging tech, such as artificial intelligence (AI). 

Sponsors for the symposium included Carla Itzkowich, in loving memory of her father, Moisés Itzkowich; Siemens; the UC Berkeley College of Engineering; Sandia National Laboratories; the UC Berkeley Bakar Fellows Program; the UC Davis College of Engineering; the UC Santa Cruz Baskin School of Engineering;  and the Internet of Things for Precision Agriculture (IoT4Ag), a National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC).

The agenda opened with remarks from UC leaders Gary May, UC Davis chancellor; Richard Corsi, dean of the UC Davis College of Engineering; Tsu-Jae King Liu, dean of Berkeley Engineering; and Camille Crittenden, CITRIS’s executive director. Liu and Crittenden are the co-founders of Expanding Diversity and Gender Equity in Tech (EDGE in Tech), a legacy initiative launched by CITRIS and Berkeley Engineering in 2016 as the Women in Technology initiative, now part of the CITRIS Innovation Hub.

“Events like this symposium are not just important — they are crucial,” May said in his welcome address. “As we enter an era of medical advancement powered by generative AI and ever-more effective algorithms, we have an urgent obligation to prepare for a future where advancements in health technology benefit everyone.”

Ijeoma Uche, the co-founder of a perinatal support platform for Black mothers called Birth By Us, delivered the first keynote. Uche, who holds a master’s degree in public health from UC Berkeley, has prioritized inclusion and social impact throughout her research and entrepreneurship.

She stressed the importance of funding women’s health research and investing in women-led health tech companies in order to solve the U.S. maternal health crisis. The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among industrialized countries, and Black women are disproportionately at risk during pregnancy and childbirth.

“As innovators, our first job is to listen, and then build,” Uche said. “It’s important to find a way to slow our brains down so we really hear the needs of the people affected by the problem we aim to solve.”

Continuous monitoring and reducing laborious processes

The first panel discussion of the day — moderated by Erin Hestir, director of CITRIS at UC Merced — brought together researchers from UC Davis, UC Davis Health and UC Merced to explore ways to harness the Internet of Things (IoT), smart sensing technologies and AI to provide telehealth solutions that are quick and robust, while also prioritizing patient privacy.

Four women wearing name tags sitting around a table. The second from the left is gesturing.
Carolynn Patten, Chen-Nee Chuah, Shijia Pan and Erin Hestir speak at the 2024 EDGE in Tech Symposium.

“If you want real-time implementation of health technology, you cannot afford to ask ‘How is my network?'” said Shijia Pan, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at UC Merced. “Edge computing would allow us to have the immediate information for the health condition we are trying to predict or monitor.”

The 2024 EDGE in Tech Athena Award recipients were honored in brief presentations throughout the program. This year’s awardees included Elaine Gómez, a game changer in the gaming sector; Amy Wendt, a transformational figure in academic leadership; Alexandra Piotrowski-Daspit, a groundbreaking biomedical engineer; and Women in STEM (WiSTEM), a student-led organization that empowers high school students to bring more women into STEM through mentorship. 

The second panel, led by CITRIS at UC Santa Cruz Director Katia Obraczka and featuring representatives from academia and industry, focused on advancements in medical imaging. The speakers highlighted innovations poised to improve the detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease, including the incorporation of AI into medical image segmentation, the process by which machine learning algorithms identify areas of interest, such as tumors, in a scan.

Three people sitting around a table wearing nametags. The man in the center is speaking, and the women sitting on either side of him are listening closely.
Yuyin Zhou, Peter Shen and Katia Obraczka present at the eight annual EDGE in Tech Symposium.

“If you had to take a piece of paper and trace out a strange shape, it would be a tedious task,” said Peter Shen, head of digital and automation at Siemens Healthineers in North America. “Now think about doing that over the entire volume of that shape  — it’s not one piece of paper, it’s thousands of pieces, and each piece might have a little nuance.

“For radiation therapy, this takes clinicians hours, sometimes days, to do manually. With artificial intelligence, you reduce this laborious effort down to a mere matter of minutes or seconds.”

Designing mindful data management and empowering participants 

Epidemiologist and CITRIS at UC Davis researcher Lorena Garcia, director of undergraduate education in public health sciences at the UC Davis School of Medicine, moderated the third panel. Experts from pharmaceutical chemistry, wastewater epidemiology and wearable biosensors shared approaches to providing proactive public health care and using predictive technology for environmental monitoring.

Four women sitting around a table. The woman second from right is speaking and gesturing, and the others are looking at her and smiling.
Lorena Garcia, Colleen Naughton, Julie Fruetel and Katia Vega on stage at the 2024 EDGE in Tech Symposium.

Responding to a question about ethical concerns around health data privacy, Colleen Naughton, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Merced, referenced new efforts to monitor wastewater for illicit drug usage at the population level.

“[The data] can be very useful to provide resources to communities,” she said. To avoid increasing policing and rates of incarceration, however, “we have to be mindful, as we set up these programs, how the data is going to be used and stored.”

The final panel of the afternoon, hosted by CITRIS Health Associate Director Gale Berkowitz and convening researchers from UC Berkeley and UC Davis, delved further into the role of AI in health equity. The group considered how health care systems could move toward a more inclusive and human-centered design, to deliver cutting-edge technology to the communities that need it most.

Verónica Ahumada-Newhart, an assistant professor of behavioral and health informatics in the Department of Pediatrics at the UC Davis School of Medicine, noted an often overlooked concern regarding the collection of data for data’s sake. “We live in a world with a ton of data,” she said, “but unless it serves a purpose, we might just identify a problem for a community that may already be in a vulnerable position,” instead of using the information to address those problems.

Four people sitting around a table and smiling.
Courtney Lyles, Verónica Ahumada-Newhart, Adrian Aguilera and Gale Berkowitz in a panel discussion at the 2024 EDGE in Tech Symposium: Advancing Health Tech for All.

Vicki Seyfert-Margolis — an immunologist by training, with experience across national institutes, nonprofits and now her own digital health startup — gave the closing keynote. As the CEO and founder of RespondHealth, a company that provides a platform to enable research teams to conduct community-based clinical trials more efficiently, she is committed to putting real-world data to use to help care providers enact smarter health interventions.

Echoing the message of Uche’s earlier talk, Seyfert-Margolis underscored the importance of involving actual community members in the development of health tech, so that innovations intended to help clinicians provide better care don’t become sources of stress instead. 

“People have a hard time changing everything completely,” she said. “Empower the participants. Tech should not be burdensome; it should be easy and quick.”

Celebrating a whirlwind tour and inaugural intensive

Friday’s symposium, with its spirited crowd of students, educators and tech enthusiasts, was also the final event of the first CITRIS Innovation Intensive on health, convened by Jill Finlayson, managing director of the CITRIS Innovation Hub. The weeklong intensive — open to corporate leaders, faculty members and graduate students, government representatives, and entrepreneurs working on health tech solutions — visited all four CITRIS campuses and the medical center at UC Davis Health.

Each campus tour offered workshops, discussion sessions and hands-on explorations designed especially for the cohort. The first stop, at CITRIS’s UC Berkeley headquarters, featured speakers from the Bakar BioEnginuity Hub, a life sciences incubator and research center; the UCSF-UC Berkeley joint program in computational precision health; and the Innovative Genomics Institute, a genome engineering collaboration among some of the Bay Area’s leading scientific research institutions. Participants also enjoyed a lunch and panel provided by alternative meat companies founded by UC alumni (including spring 2021 CITRIS Foundry venture Sundial Foods!), plus a funders-and-founders mixer at the Berkeley SkyDeck.

The day at UC Santa Cruz included a dive deep into augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications for health care and an introduction to the UC Santa Cruz Genome Browser, an open-source, interactive website that offers access to annotated genomic data from a variety of organisms, including humans. 

The cohort next visited UC Merced, where they heard from the head of the newest UC medical school and from researchers who shared their strategies for community-centered projects to monitor human health in California’s Central Valley. Participants also received one-on-one mentoring for their health tech startups from experienced coaches during the drive between campuses.

On the penultimate day of the intensive, the participants met with leaders from the CITRIS Climate initiative and UC Davis College of Engineering to discuss technologies to monitor and address effects of poor air quality on health. The cohort later visited the medical center in Sacramento, where they talked about the continuing promise of telehealth, the future of surgical robotics and much more.

While at UC Davis, CITRIS at UC Davis Director Saif Islam presented programs introducing emerging technologies to the next generation of science and engineering leaders, such as Islam’s own CITRIS INSPIRE. These camps, workshops and outreach events encourage middle and high school students to see themselves in high-tech fields.  

Camille Crittenden’s closing remarks of the symposium harkened back to that discussion, and to the counsel given by both keynote speakers: to prioritize diverse perspectives at the outset of the design process to ensure technologies, and outcomes, that represent everyone. 

“Here at the University of California, we are such a diverse community,” Crittenden said. Noting that 40 to 60 percent of UC students are first-generation college attendees or eligible for Pell Grants, indicating a family income under $45,000, she continued, “This makes me really proud and hopeful for a future that will foster more inclusive health tech for all.”