Researcher Negar Tavassolian Uses AI, Radar, Imaging and Wearables to Monitor Health
Stevens researcher Negar Tavassolian tackles a range of difficult health diagnosis challenges — using an array of novel, fascinating technologies.
Monitoring the heartbeats and vital signs of athletes, emergency responders and hospital patients is one such challenge.
“Heart failure (HF), for example, is a serious problem that afflicts 5 to 6 million Americans, and the number is expected to rise,” she notes. “Yet the current heart-monitoring technology, the Holter system, is bulky, uncomfortable and expensive.”
Using wearable, miniaturized sensors and innovative radar, she hopes to change that. For one project, her team harvests data from small, lightweight motion sensors strapped to the chest with Velcro. Tiny gyroscopes and accelerometers collect and transmit data about linear and rotational motions of the chest wall, which are processed to produce heartbeat measurements or warn of irregularities such as HF or heart disease.
“These sensors do not need to be attached directly to the skin, and can instead be worn over clothing,” she notes.
In early testing with an experimental set of subjects at Columbia University Medical Center and on the Stevens campus, the system produced accuracy of up to 99.5%.
Tavassolian has also developed and pilot-tested an unobtrusive earpiece to monitor blood pressure by calculating a metric known as “pulse transit time.”
Another project proposes low-cost, innovative Doppler radars that act as touchless sensors and measure heartbeats and respiration rates. The technology could prove useful in hospital environments: a room with the technology embedded, for example, might scan all the patients within it for vital signs.
Initial tests demonstrated the concept is feasible, with radar readings matching real-time fingertip pulse readings more than 98% of the time.
To detect potentially forming skin cancers, Tavassolian leverages a different technology: applications of the same shortwave rays used by cellphones and airport security scanners.
Millimeter-wave radiation penetrates some materials and bounces off others; just as metal reflects more energy than body tissue, cancerous tumors reflect more energy than healthy skin, making it possible to identify diseased tissue.
Tavassolian and student researcher Amir Mirbeik-Sabzevari custom-built antennae that can generate high-resolution images of biopsied tissue. The system located and mapped even small tumors as accurately as lab tests did. Next her team plans to explore development of a handheld detection device.
“People won’t need to wait weeks to get results, and that will save lives,” she notes.