Researcher Avinash Pandey presenAvinash Pandeyted evidence this week that automated text messages can help heart patients remember to take their medications.

Unlike other presenters at the American Heart Association EPI/Lifestyle 2015 meeting, Pandey lacks an alphabet of advanced degrees. That’s because the 17-year-old still needs to finish high school.

The senior at Waterloo Collegiate Institute in Ontario, Canada, said his study started as a science fair project.

“My research began in grade seven when I read about a young man who passed away because he missed his medication,” said Pandey.

How might that have been prevented, Pandey wondered.

“So many people have cell phones today. I thought perhaps using text messages would be a good way of reminding them to take their medication,” he said.

So that summer, Pandey taught himself computer programming and designed a program to automatically send text messages to remind patients to take their medications as prescribed. The simple program doesn’t even require downloading an app, Pandey said.

He recruited 30 stable heart patients from nearby Cambridge Cardiac Care Centre. Study participants received text message reminders up to four times a day for a month. The following month, they didn’t receive any text message prompts.

Pandey found that patients were 64 percent less likely to miss their medications with the text message reminders.

Older patients, those with depression and participants with less than a high school education were more likely than others to miss their medications without the reminders. Yet those groups also made bigger improvements when they received text message alerts.

One of Pandey’s goals with his text messaging system was make it available for free. “You don’t want to add more cost to someone’s medical bills,” he said. “It can send text message reminders to any type of cell phones, not just smartphones.”

Pandey’s work won the gold medal for health sciences at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in 2012, and third place at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2013. But most gratifying, he said, was to see his program being used by local hospitals in Cambridge, Ontario, to reach more than 1,000 heart patients.

With a cardiologist and pharmacist as parents, Pandey’s scientific pursuits run in the family. His 15-year-old brother Arjun also presented two research studies at the EPI/Lifestyle meeting.

Early on, Pandey emailed noted researcher Niteesh Choudhry, M.D., Ph.D., for advice.

“We talked a few times,” said Choudhry, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The next thing I knew, based on limited guidance, he had launched the trial. He did all the things you do when you conduct a clinical trial, all by himself, using a technology he wrote.”

“I was amazed when he emailed me back,” said Pandey. “He’s shown a lot of interest.” The two have since collaborated on other research, Pandey said.

Choudhry called Pandey’s research “provocative.”

“It’s truly something I’ve never seen in a high school student, a medical resident or even a doctoral student,” Choudhry said. “This kid is spectacular.”

If Pandey pursues a career in medical research, Choudhry will be there to support him. “He’s got the right skill set: personable, creative, hard-working, organized and inspired,” said Choudhry.

For now, Pandey just knows he loves science. “I’m passionate about health sciences,” he said, “but there’s a lot of time to decide.”

Photo courtesy of Avinash Pandey