HudsonAlpha Tech Challenge Merges Genomics, Computer Coding

Huntsville, Ala. – HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology hosted the inaugural HudsonAlpha Tech Challenge. More than 100 registered to collaborate on life sciences challenges and applied computer science skills such as machine learning, blockchain and virtual reality.

Photo credit: Daniel Horton

Winning “Best in Show,” Team AlphaTek” tackled blockchain technology to make medical record and genome data accessible to clinicians. This had to be done without violating HIPAA or risking patient data security. The requirements of the challenge included allowing a patient to input their own health records, storing those data securely and allowing physicians to view any record as needed.

Using a genomic sequence, AlphaTek generated a public key and private key that could be distributed to patients.

“We wanted to create a unique structure that allows for a private key to be held by an individual and a public key provided to the physician that can be exchanged back and forth so that we [patients] can keep our private key, and use all of the benefits of the blockchain,” said Jonathan Heath, AlphaTek team member.

HudsonAlpha also awarded first and second place prizes to high school and college/professionals teams:

  • ForensX : 1st place, High School

  • GeneView: 2nd place, High School

  • Secure Record Hive: 1st place, College/Professionals

  • Double Helix VR: 2nd place, College/Professionals

HudsonAlpha Vice President for Economic Development, Carter Wells, said the Tech Challenge was a great way to introduce students and the coding community to genomics, genetics and biotechnology career opportunities in both HudsonAlpha’s nonprofit institute and its life sciences resident associate companies.

“The HudsonAlpha labs and the biotech companies need this type of talent. Aside from a competitive and exciting weekend, a primary goal was to continue to build a workforce that is combining biology and genomics with computer science,” said Wells.

The Tech Challenge was a collaboration between HudsonAlpha and Urban Engine, a Huntsville-based nonprofit that accelerates innovation through programs and resources including CoWorking Night and 32/10.

“This weekend was about getting people together as a team and finding new ways of taking existing knowledge, and turning it into new great products,” said Dick Reeves, chairman of the board for Urban Engine.

Maynard Cooper & Gale, a national law firm with a focus on innovative companies, was the presenting sponsor for the event.

“Innovation remains a core part of Huntsville’s culture and a key to its future. As presenting sponsor of the inaugural HudsonAlpha Tech Challenge, Maynard Cooper & Gale is proud to support a new avenue for showcasing the ingenuity of Huntsville’s technology community,” said Maynard Cooper & Gale associate Ryan Letson.

Thank you, participants, sponsors and volunteers for making the HudsonAlpha Tech Challenge a success.

About HudsonAlpha: HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a nonprofit institute dedicated to innovating in the field of genomic technology and sciences across a spectrum of biological challenges. Opened in 2008, its mission is four-fold: sparking scientific discoveries that can impact human health and well-being; bringing genomic medicine into clinical care; fostering life sciences entrepreneurship and business growth; and encouraging the creation of a genomics-literate workforce and society. The HudsonAlpha biotechnology campus consists of 152 acres nestled within Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second largest research park. Designed to be a hothouse of biotech economic development, HudsonAlpha’s state-of-the-art facilities co-locate nonprofit scientific researchers with entrepreneurs and educators. The relationships formed on the HudsonAlpha campus encourage collaborations that produce advances in medicine and agriculture. HudsonAlpha has become a national and international leader in genetics and genomics research and biotech education and includes more than 30 diverse biotech companies on campus. To learn more about HudsonAlpha, visit

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Margetta Thomas