Excerpt from Honolulu Magazine June/July 2020 issue
Wearable technology is already taking off in the Islands and globally- so much so that the University of Hawai’i is creating a program for future medical inventors.
Right now, it focuses on a man named Tyler Ray. The 34-year-old Virginia native moved to O’ahu last year as UH Mānoa’s first true biomedical engineering faculty member. He came from Northwestern University where he helped to develop a sweat monitoring patch that can be used to diagnose diseases such as cystic fibrosis. The thin silicone patches stick to the skin and change color to indicate sweat and electrolyte loss. Gatorade plans to use it to monitor athlete exertion and debut it to the public this summer. It’s been tested in the Ironman World Championship in Kona for the past few years.
Ray’s arrival at UH’s College of Engineering marks a new era for the school — the start of its biomedical engineering program. After the accreditation process is complete, the school’s dean, Brennon Morioka, says UH will offer a bachelor of science in engineering with this new specialty. A key part of the program’s success is partnering with UH’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. That collaboration between engineers and doctors helps ensure that what they’re creating is something people will want to wear.
“Biomedical engineering means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Universally, it’s thinking about how we interface with the body and apply engineering principles to that,” Ray says. “Med tech is a really important area right now. It’s where a lot of engineering is going. That’s the future.”
At JABSOM, Scott Lozanoff and his team in the Anatomy, Biochemistry & Physiology Department have already come up with an invention that’s paying dividends now. Rad3D is a web-based platform that allows doctors to see 3D models of cadavers and organs.
“When [doctors are] dealing with real complex tumors … as they’re doing the surgery, they’re trying to figure
out where the boundaries are,” Lozanoff says. “But having those 3D models to begin with and to see those boundaries [beforehand] is a real advantage.”
Lozanoff and Jesse Thompson, technical director of Anatomical Imaging, say their graduate students have been using Rad3D since 2017 for a more realistic experience and problem-based learning. The duo began working on the software in 2015 and launched Rad3D in 2016. They’re currently working with Tripler Army Medical Center doctors who want to use it to prepare for surgeries. They are also seeking FDA approval to use it as a diagnostic tool.
“It’s a very rigorous process to validate a device for human health,” UH’s Ray says. “You’ll learn additional challenges through the clinical trial studies. There are all sorts of issues that could appear.”
Magdy Iskander, an electrical engineering professor at UH Mānoa, has been there. In fact, he’s still there. He and his team created a patch that monitors lung water content, which can be used to detect heart failure. Traditionally, a catheter is inserted into the heart to measure pressure and detect heart failure. Iskander’s tiny patch, though, can be sewn into underwear or shirts. A wire connects to a 3-by-2-inch box that transmits data to an app. Iskander completed clinical trials at The Queen’s Medical Center, monitoring heart failure and dialysis patients, and is now awaiting FDA approval, which he expects in December. He said it also has the potential to monitor COVID-19 patients.
As part of the clinical trials, Iskander, director of the Hawai’i Center for Advanced Communications in UH’s College of Engineering, and his team traveled throughout the Mainland to talk to doctors about his device, called a cardiopulmonary stethoscope. It’s being developed by Miwa Technologies. They found that many professionals are searching for noninvasive testing methods rather than scans and surgeries.
“It’s monitoring things that can help the doctor keep track of progress and medications, so it’s really complementing,” he says. “It’s helping the diagnosis and treatment … but it doesn’t treat anything.”