The University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney recently
announced that its faculties of Medicine and Engineering are investing
A$1.8 million on four cutting-edge biomedical projects.
These projects engage clinicians to create technology-based
solutions to address widespread health problems and health issues such as sleep
apnoea, keeping the elderly safe in their homes, improving medical image
analysis and guiding radiotherapy treatments for cancer patients.
This is the first time UNSW has offered this type of
partnership and funding for clinically-led healthcare solutions that could be
utilised by local area health districts.
The projects involve UNSW’s collaboration with Prince of Wales
Hospital, Ingham Institute, Liverpool and Macarthur Cancer
Therapy Centres and the CSIRO,
with the aim for funding to lead to clinical trials and commercialisation of
the four initiatives.
According to UNSW’s Dean of Engineering Professor Mark
Hoffman, biomedical engineering is one of the most dynamic and fast-growing
Biomedical Engineering Seed Fund, created with Rodney Phillips, UNSW’s Dean of Medicine,
is unique in that it’s clinically-led, supporting initiatives that pair a
clinician with an engineering researcher on real-world problems where projects
could have an immediate impact on health issues,” said Professor Hoffman.
The four biomedical seed fund projects to be funded for
three years are:
Smart home IT support for frail elderly
people with early dementia who live alone
The project to develop a new monitoring technology to help
people with early dementia live safely at home for longer is led by Professor
Branko Celler from the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications,
Scientia Professor Henry Brodaty from the Centre
for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), Associate Prof Stephen Redmond from the
Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering and Associate Professor Kim Delbaere
from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA).
According to Professor Celler, more than 410,000 people in
Australia have dementia, with about 70,000 living alone.
“What we want to create is a low-cost, adaptable at-home
technology device that can prolong the period of time someone with dementia can
continue living independently.” said Professor Celler. “
Working with a clinical care team, a virtual assistant
system will be set up in the patient’s home with miniature speakers in each
room that talk and instruct the person on daily and weekly tasks.
“It will be like Google Assistant and use minimal kit or
gear in the home, with a visual display to help reinforce the audio-messages.
The patient will also wear a fall detection monitor that will alert the care
team to a fall, a drop in energy levels or sleep patterns,” Professor Celler
Professor Celler is currently working with community nurses
and Alzheimer’s clinicians to identify existing and new technology that can be
used in a clinical trial setting.
“At-home telemonitoring is crucial for reducing expenditure
on medical services, hospital admissions and the burden on the health system,”
A novel optical stimulation method for
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea treatment
In another project, Professor Lynne Bilston, from UNSW
Medicine and NeuRA, in collaboration with researchers from the Graduate
School of Biomedical Engineering, is developing a novel treatment device
for obstructive sleep apnoea.
Sleep apnoea is an increasingly common sleep disorder that
affects more than 9% of Australian adults. In sleep apnoea patients, the throat
can collapse many times an hour, causing the patient to stop breathing
repeatedly during the night. It results in excessive daytime sleepiness,
increased risk of accidents, and cardiovascular disease.
“New treatments for
sleep apnoea are urgently needed,” says Professor Bilston. “Many patients
cannot tolerate the current clunky and uncomfortable ‘gold standard’ treatment,
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). Other treatments are not effective
for all patients.”
Professor Bilston says that by developing and testing a new
device to stimulate the muscles around the throat, “we can prevent the collapse
of the upper airway that occurs during sleep in sleep apnoea patients.”
Development of a modular medical image
analysis application (MIAA)
The project aims to improve 3D ultrasound medical image
analysis tools in order to quantify available data using new applications. It
is led by Professor Alec Welsh from the School of Women’s and Children’s Health and
Associate Professor Tracie Barber from the School of Mechanical and
Learning from and Improving target volume
delineation in radiotherapy
Led by Associate Professor Lois Holloway, Ingham Institute, South Western Sydney Clinical School and
Professor Arcot Sowmya from the School of Computer Science and Engineering, the
project aims to develop radiotherapy software tools for patients suffering from
prostate, lung and breast cancer. Professor Holloway plans to develop a
methodology to show how radiotherapy treatments should change based on outcomes
of data and adapting as new data becomes available.