Company's app helps med students learn by Osmosis

Osmosis Team
Aug 30, 2013

This piece is an article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal and written by Peter Kay. The original piece can be seen here.

As M.D. candidates at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Shiv Gaglani and Ryan Haynes found themselves experiencing what they came to call academic bulimia — learning a ton of information to pass a course and then forgetting much of it shortly after.

What was especially troubling was that they knew that much of what they forgot could prove useful. For example, a medical condition may be relatively rare, but in the United States, which has a population of nearly 315 million, millions could suffer from it. As a result, the condition would be a good thing for medical students to remember even after they’re done learning about it in school.

So they've launched a new app called Osmosis to do just that.

“We built Osmosis to get to the point of, ‘How do we learn things and not just learn them but retain them for the long haul?’ ” said Gaglani, who is the company’s CEO.

Osmosis takes advantage of a principle called the Baker-baker paradox, which is that people are less likely to remember that someone is named Baker than they are to remember that a person is a baker.

Once documents from med-school curricula are uploaded to its website, the company extracts the text from them and uses a cluster algorithm to bring in articles, videos and other content related to the subjects the documents cover. For example, if one of the subjects were the BRCA1 gene, the algorithm would find articles about Angelina Jolie having a double mastectomy after she learned she had the gene, which doctors estimated gave her an 87 percent risk breast cancer.

Gaglani and Haynes launched Osmosis as a website at Johns Hopkins in January 2012.

“Ryan and I started Osmosis as a side project, but then med school became a side project because we realized we were passing our tests simply by learning through Osmosis,” Gaglani said.

After completing their second year, the two took a leave of absence to participate in DreamIt Health, an accelerator for health-care information-technology companies run by DreamIt Ventures, Independence Blue Cross and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

A little less than two weeks ago, the company launched an iPhone app that serves up questions and answers about subjects the students are studying. At a launch party at the Philadelphia-based VentureF0rth incubator, which was home base for the DreamIt Health companies, Gaglani told me 1,500 med-school students, or 1.5 percent of all the med-school students in the U.S., had already downloaded it and used it to answer 30,000 questions.

At Johns Hopkins, he said, 240 med students answered more than half a million questions on Osmosis’ web platform.

Gaglani and Haynes initially plan to have Osmosis generate revenue in two ways: By selling packs of questions for its app from medical publishing organizations and by enabling medical schools and professors to analyze how their students use its web platform.

Gaglani said pre-med programs, clinical programs and educational programs
that are similar to medical education programs have expressed interest in Osmosis’ technology, as have pharmaceutical companies that want to use it to keep their sales representatives’ knowledge up to date.

Osmosis just signed a lease to stay in Philadelphia. The city is a good location for the company because of its medical schools, which provide it with students to use its products, and its colleges, which provide it with interns to help it with its day-to-day operations.

Osmosis expects to raise funding early next year, which means Gaglani and Haynes will have to answer questions about whether they’ll return to med school.

Gaglani said venture capitalists who would invest in the company “don’t want to hear [we’re] going back to med school, but our parents don’t want to hear [we’re] not going back to med school.”

Even if they don’t go back to med school, Gaglani and Haynes should be OK. Gaglani has deferred admission to Harvard Business School's MBA program and is an editor of med-tech site Medgadget. Haynes has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Cambridge.

Peter covers education, energy, labor, technology and venture capital.