By Sara Cody
As the National Science Foundation looks to the future of science in smart and connected health, the agency partnered with the Center for Information and Systems Engineering to convene a gathering of principal investigators and other research leaders on the BU campus this month. The interdisciplinary researchers discussed their progress and identified new areas for future research.
“The meeting looked at cutting-edge innovations, from smart analytics to bring about personalized health solutions, to devices and algorithms that close the loop and control important physiological variables, and to ways in which we, as humans, can better interface with technology to improve our health,” said Professor Ioannis Paschalidis (ECE, BME, SE), who spearheaded the event steering committee along with Professor Christos Cassandras (ECE, SE) and Professor William Adams (MED). “It was an honor and a privilege to host this event at Boston University, welcoming many distinguished colleagues, and showcasing the important interdisciplinary work we have been doing in this fascinating arena.”
The three-day program interspersed presentations with breakout sessions in which attendees gathered together in smaller groups to discuss new ideas and presented their findings to the entire group. Presentations covered themes in connected healthcare, big data and analysis, harnessing the power of the Internet of Things to personalize healthcare, and the challenges associated with handling privacy and implementation. The first day of the workshop, titled “Visioning,” hosted a forum of more than 60 research leaders.
“The goal of this workshop is to have brilliant people weigh in about where smart health should go, and the material we gain from that will be pulled together to publish and present to NSF leadership in order to keep moving that needle,” said Wendy Nilsen, director of the NSF’s Smart and Connected Health program. “We are focused on using science to solve problems with societal value and we are calling on this community we built to come together and look to the future.”
Professor Edward Damiano (BME) presented the iLetTM bionic pancreas as an example of a smart and connected health system that “closes the loop” by automating the dosing process to treat type 1 diabetes, relieving patients and their caretakers of the burdensome task. Motivated by his infant son David’s diagnosis, Damiano has spent the last 15 years developing the bionic pancreas. The technology optimizes blood sugar levels by using dosing algorithms to automatically calculate and precisely dispense two hormones every five minutes: insulin when blood sugar levels are high; and glucagon when they are low.
“With this disease data changes every day, minute to minute, person to person. It is a day and night disease that requires round the clock care and a lot of impractical cognitive input and the current tools are failing patients,” said Damiano. “The iLetTM learns from your ever-changing glucose needs, making 288 decisions every day, which amounts to once every five minutes, and adjusting the medication as subtly or dramatically as the patient requires.”
The Principal Investigator meeting was held on the second day and brought together more than 120 researchers representing more than $150 million NSF investment in smart and connected health. In addition to summarizing the previous day, the meeting featured 84 ignite talks — 90-second research overviews summarizing interesting insights and hopes for the future of smart connected health.
“The Smart and Connected Health Visioning and PI meetings were remarkable for their collaborative focus on the future,” said Nilsen. “Participants, supported by the multidisciplinary environment at BU, envisioned future scientific needs through the lens of fundamental and applied sciences to identify the prime potential areas of research.”