Microsoft grant boosts stroke, cardio disease detection devices

19 July 2011

Dr Alistair McEwan: "The potential patient outcomes of this grant are very exciting."
Dr Alistair McEwan: "The potential patient outcomes of this grant are very exciting."

A $100,000 Microsoft fellowship awarded to a lecturer leading the University of Sydney in the emerging field of bioelectronics will accelerate the development of electrical devices used to diagnose and monitor stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Dr Alistair McEwan from the School of Electrical and Information Engineering is investigating the electrode-skin interface, with the aim of improving emergency diagnosis of heart attacks and strokes, and long-term monitoring of cardiovascular disease.

Dr McEwan is the University's leading light in bioelectronics, the combination of electrical engineering and biology. His research includes the development of low-cost electronic devices to detect newborn malnutrition, obesity and diabetes in the developing world. This year he started teaching Australia's first specialist undergraduate bioelectronics degree.

As the recipient of a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship grant, Dr McEwan says funds will bring forward preclinical trials of improved electrical devices able to diagnose heart attacks and strokes sooner and with greater accuracy. He hopes to bring the devices to trial in 2015.

Current devices are limited by movement at the interface between the electrodes and the body, says Dr McEwan.

"This movement introduces error in bioelectronic recording, wasting precious time and limiting use of monitoring devices outside hospitals. A good example of this is movement of defibrillator electrodes during CPR, thought to limit the number of successful resuscitations by up to 50 percent. Electrical impedance measurements are very sensitive to movement, normally considered a source of noise.

"My work uses a number of impedance measurements in parallel, to adaptively condition multi-electrode array based sensors. They use this information to improve the biological signal with advanced signal processing techniques such as compressed sensing.

"More efficient diagnosis, particularly of strokes, improves patients' likelihood of recovery," Dr McEwan says. "The potential patient outcomes of this grant are very exciting.

"As a researcher, it's often easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae and lose sight of our end goal. Microsoft's recognition of my research is a boon to the field of bioelectronics and a valuable acknowledgement of its potential to help minimise the effects of widespread health problems."

The Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship program recognises innovative, promising researchers exploring breakthrough, high-impact research with the potential to solve some of society's most challenging problems.

Dr McEwan is the first Australian university-based recipient of a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship grant.

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