The new challenges in global health require interdisciplinary teams of scholars, policy makers, and community members that stimulate demand and increase supply of health products, while reducing costs in sustainable ways. Our research engages such teams across the campus and the world.
Featured Research Projects
Smart Phones Tested For Cancer Screening In Zambia
Nicholas Saulnier ’15, ’16, a master’s degree student and graduate research assistant in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, always hoped he’d be able to solve problems and help people over the course of his career as an electrical engineer. To his surprise, that time came sooner than he expected.“I never thought I’d be able to make a difference while I was still a student,” says Saulnier, one of several SMU engineering students to help develop hardware and software to screen for cervical cancer with a smart phone. The technology, for use in remote regions of the globe where physicians are in short supply, is being tested in Zambia.
Department of Electrical Engineering Chair Dinesh Rajan, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Engineering, conceived of the research project in 2014 with Eric G. Bing, professor of global health in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, during a research meeting of the SMU Center for Global Health Impact, which Bing directs. Other project members include Prasanna Rangarajan, research assistant professor, and master’s student Soham Soneji.“It’s meant to assist the person in the field, a nurse or other medical practitioner, to make better decisions,” Rajan says. “Cervical cancer is a curable cancer when detected early. But there’s a lack of experienced doctors in many countries, or people must travel far to reach a clinic to be examined.”The smart phone technology leverages a well-known algorithm used in a wide variety of applications, Rajan says. The SMU engineers coupled the algorithm with hardware that improves performance of smart phone cameras for taking pictures in low light, where focus is difficult and impeded by scattering reflections from the speculum used in the cervical examination. The software compares the photo to pictures stored in a vast medical database. When a possible abnormality is detected, patients are referred to a clinic or specialist for further evaluation.
“Technology must and will be leveraged to improve healthcare for everyone and break the divide between the medical haves and have-nots — this is just among the early steps in that direction,” Rajan says.
Bing saw the need while a senior fellow and director of global health for the George W. Bush Institute, where he co-founded Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, a public-private partnership to combat cervical cancer in Africa.
“Through innovative and interdisciplinary research like that which is being conducted at SMU, our students and faculty can help save lives throughout the world,” Bing says.
Cloud in a Box
Dr. Sukumaran Nair
Cloud in a Box –an inter-University project collaborating with faculty from UNT and UT Dallas to resolve issues of big data analytics in global health centers in limited-resource settings. The “cloud patch” that has been developed is device-agnostic and infrastructure-agnostic and allows patients and providers to use multiple devices to collect health data. The data is saved to the cloud so it can be shared or used as needed.
Mobile Phones for Health
Dr. Eric Larson is an assistant professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. He received his B.S. and M.S. from Oklahoma State University and his PhD from the University of Washington, Seattle, where he was advised by MacArthur Genius Fellow Dr. Shwetak Patel. His work has been commercialized and he holds a variety of patents for sustainability sensing and mobile phone-based health sensing. Dr. Larson’s work in water sensing has garnered significant impact in the sustainability community and is the basis of the new product: the Belkin Echo for water conservation. Since coming to SMU in 2013, Dr. Larson has focused primarily on medical health sensing from mobile phones, where he has helped to develop applications for newborn jaundice screening, real time cognitive load monitoring, and lung function measurement, among others. His work in mobile health is the first of its kind to seek FDA approval and is creating a new paradigm for medical sensing out of the doctor’s office. Dr. Larson is an avid believer in flipping the clinic, where health care technology is augmented through controlled, reliable data collection in our everyday lives—especially using electronic devices that are already ubiquitous such as mobile phones.
Dr. Larson is a regular contributor and program member for the international conference on ubiquitous computing. Dr. Larson’s work has been published in numerous conferences and journals disseminated through many different cross-disciplinary venues: ICIP, CHI, MobiSys, PERCOM, UbiComp, DEV, WCCI, SPIE, and Pervasive, garnering six best paper nominations in four years. He has also successfully completed seven patents in that time. Dr. Larson is active in signal processing education for computer scientists and has co-authored a text book for teaching signal processing to computer science students. He has created new courses aimed at educating students about leveraging the power of smartphones, the coming age of ubiquitous technology, and cognitive computing through data science. He currently resides in Dallas, TX with his wife and two children.
Alexander R. Lippert is pioneering new optical molecular diagnostics to monitor and understand diseases ranging from asthma to cancer. His research team has designed chemical systems that light up in response to markers of airway inflammation using chemistry similar to that found in glowsticks and fireflies. This optical signal can be detected using widely available cellphone cameras, opening up life saving opportunities for mobile health. Dr. Lippert is an Assistant Professor in the department of Chemistry in the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at SMU.