TAG: "Innovation"

Smartphone video microscope automates parasite detection in blood

UC Berkeley’s CellScope technology could help efforts to eradicate filarial diseases.

By Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley

A research team led by UC Berkeley engineers has developed a new smartphone microscope that uses video to automatically detect and quantify infection by parasitic worms in a drop of blood. This next generation of UC Berkeley’s CellScope technology could help revive efforts to eradicate debilitating filarial diseases in Africa by providing critical information to health providers in the field.

“We previously showed that mobile phones can be used for microscopy, but this is the first device that combines the imaging technology with hardware and software automation to create a complete diagnostic solution,” said Daniel Fletcher, an associate chair and professor of bioengineering, whose UC Berkeley lab pioneered the CellScope. “The video CellScope provides accurate, fast results that enable health workers to make potentially life-saving treatment decisions in the field.”

The UC Berkeley engineers teamed up with Dr. Thomas Nutman from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and collaborators from Cameroon and France to develop the device. They conducted a pilot study in Cameroon, where health officials have been battling the parasitic worm diseases onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis.

The video CellScope, which uses motion instead of molecular markers or fluorescent stains to detect the movement of worms, was as accurate as conventional screening methods, the researchers found. The results of the pilot study are reported today (May 6) in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“This research is addressing neglected tropical diseases,” said Fletcher. “It demonstrates what technology can do to help fill a void for populations that are suffering from terrible, but treatable, diseases.”

Battling parasitic worms

River blindness is transmitted through the bite of blackflies and is the second-leading cause of infectious blindness worldwide. Lymphatic filariasis, spread by mosquitoes, leads to elephantiasis, a condition marked by painful, disfiguring swelling. It is the second-leading cause of disability worldwide and, like river blindness, is highly endemic in certain regions in Africa.

The antiparasitic drug ivermectin, or IVM, can be used to treat these diseases, but mass public health campaigns to administer the medication have been stalled because of potentially fatal side effects for patients co-infected with Loa loa, which causes loiasis, or African eye worm. When there are high circulating levels of microscopic Loa loa worms in a patient, treatment with IVM can potentially lead to severe or fatal brain or other neurologic damage.

The standard method of screening for levels of Loa loa involves trained technicians manually counting the worms in a blood smear using conventional laboratory microscopes, making the process impractical for use in field settings and in mass campaigns to administer IVM.

The serious side effects of Loa loa and the difficulty of rapidly quantifying Loa levels in patients before treatment make it too risky to broadly administer IVM, representing a major setback in the efforts to eradicate river blindness and elephantiasis.

Next generation CellScope uses video, automation

For this latest generation of the mobile phone microscope, named CellScope Loa, the researchers paired a smartphone with a 3-D-printed plastic base where the sample of blood is positioned. The base included LED lights, microcontrollers, gears, circuitry and a USB port.

Control of the device is automated through an app the researchers developed for this purpose. With a single touch of the screen by the health care worker, the phone communicates wirelessly via Bluetooth to controllers in the base to process and analyze the sample of blood. Gears move the sample in front of the camera, and an algorithm automatically analyzes the telltale “wriggling” motion of the worms in video captured by the phone. The worm count is then displayed on the screen.

Fletcher said previous field tests revealed that automation helped reduce the rate of human error. The procedure takes about two minutes or less, starting from the time the sample is inserted to the display of the results. Pricking a finger and loading the blood onto the capillary adds another minute to the time.

The short processing time allows health workers to quickly determine on site whether it is safe to administer IVM.

“The availability of a point-of-care test prior to drug treatment is a major advance in the control of these debilitating diseases,” said aquatic ecologist Vincent Resh, a professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. “The research offering a phone-based app is ingenious, practical and highly needed.”

Resh, who is not involved in the CellScope project, has worked in West Africa for 15 years on the control of onchocerciasis.

The researchers are now expanding the study of CellScope Loa to about 40,000 people in Cameroon.

Co-lead authors of the study are Michael D’Ambrosio, UC Berkeley research scientist in bioengineering, and Matthew Bakalar, UC Berkeley graduate student in bioengineering. Other study authors included researchers from the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon and the University of Montpellier in France.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UC Berkeley Blum Center for Developing Economies, U.S. Agency for International Development and NIAID helped support this work. The NIAID is part of the National Institutes of Health.

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UC Health center breaks down barriers to sharing innovations

Center for Health Quality and Innovation holds fourth annual colloquium.

UC San Francisco's Rebecca Smith-Bindman is one of the UC Center for Health Quality and Innovation grant recipients who spoke at the center's fourth annual colloquium in Oakland.

By Alec Rosenberg

The University of California’s Center for Health Quality and Innovation has funded projects to improve care at UC medical centers, from higher survival rates for heart attacks to fewer blood clots and lower radiation doses.

But extending such improvements across all five UC medical centers continues to be a challenge, speakers said Wednesday (April 22) at the innovation center’s fourth annual colloquium in Oakland.

In four years, the innovation center has funded 50 projects, with a report finding that its grants produce a 5-to-1 return on investment, said Dr. John Stobo, UC Health executive vice president.

“While each project has been worthy in addressing cost, quality and safety, we have not been as successful in spreading projects from one or two medical centers to all UC medical centers and beyond,” Stobo said. “We are at a crossroads.”

The innovation center was established in October 2010 to foster innovations developed at UC medical center campuses and hospitals in order to improve quality, access and value in the delivery of health care.

Panelists provided an in-depth assessment of barriers to implementing systemwide change in the hopes of identifying solutions to sharing effective projects more broadly.

“That’s the only way we are going to get better,” said moderator Dr. Robert Wachter, professor and associate chair of the Department of Medicine at UC San Francisco. “We may have been too ambitious. Start smaller. Get it right. Build on your successes.”

Reducing radiation doses

The use of computed tomography (CT) exams has risen dramatically in the past 20 years, with about 1 in 5 patients receiving a CT scan each year. While the technology is an important medical advance, it’s estimated that 2 percent of cancers may be caused by CT radiation exposure. CT scans deliver much more radiation than conventional imaging, doses are highly variable and often are higher than needed, said innovation center grantee Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, professor in residence in the Department of Radiology at UCSF.

Smith-Bindman leads the UC DOSE project to optimize and standardize computed tomography radiation doses for patients across UC medical centers. The project has helped reduce CT doses by 25 percent at UC medical centers, generated nine papers and led to more than $10 million in additional grants to expand the work to other hospitals.

But getting buy-in across UC has been difficult, involving many phone calls and urging colleagues to implement changes, which has worked in some cases but not always, she said.

“I have become increasingly frustrated by the tension between research and improving the clinical service,” Smith-Bindman said. “As a researcher, I do not have clout alone to influence day-to-day practice or to motivate ongoing interest in this topic.”

Stopping blood clots

Blood clots are a leading cause of preventable deaths in hospitals nationwide. Among the most deadly of these conditions is venous thromboembolism, VTE, which occurs when a blood clot that develops in a deep vein of the leg or pelvis, dislodges and travels to the lung to form a pulmonary embolism.

A five-campus project led by Dr. Greg Maynard reduced the VTE rate at UC medical centers by 24 percent from 2011 to 2014, preventing about 170 VTE cases and saving $2 million a year.

Still, Maynard has trained other organizations in the VTE protocol and said that they were able to ramp up improvements more quickly than UC medical centers. Standardizing information technology systems would help, said Maynard, who became chief quality officer at UC Davis Medical Center in March after working at UC San Diego.

“It starts with making it a priority at the top,” Maynard said.

Healing hearts

More than 200,000 people have cardiac arrests in U.S. hospitals each year. Less than a quarter of them survive. The Advanced Resuscitation Training (ART) program developed at UC San Diego has reduced the incidence of cardiac arrest at UC San Diego hospitals and doubled survival for remaining victims to about 40 percent. A key factor in those improvements has been having support from the chief medical officer and chief nursing officer, said Dr. Rebecca Sell, assistant professor of clinical medicine at UC San Diego.

An innovation center grant has expanded the ART program, which focuses on prevention, identifying early indicators and creating a culture of resuscitation, to the other UC medical centers. While early results have been promising, “it requires a lot of collaboration,” said Dr. Matt Aldrich, associate professor of anesthesia at UCSF. “There’s a lot of herding cats.”

“It’s hard enough to change one department,” added Dr. Edward Lee, assistant clinical professor of general internal medicine at UCLA.

UC Davis has taken a bottom-up approach that has helped overcome concerns with a “let’s-do-this” mentality, said Dr. Aaron Bair, professor of emergency medicine at UC Davis.

Strength in numbers

Nearly 100 people attended the colloquium. Attendees said they found the discussion fruitful.

“This is great,” said Dr. Catherine Lau, a UCSF hospitalist who is entering the third and final year of an innovation center project to improve neurosurgical patient outcomes and care experiences. “It’s really about sustainability and changing the culture.”

Innovation center Executive Director Karyn DiGiorgio agreed.

“The Center for Health Quality and Innovation plans to keep focusing on scaling up successful projects across UC Health,” DiGiorgio said.

Despite facing barriers, it’s important for UC Health to continue to look at things from a systemwide basis, Stobo said. He pointed to UC Health’s year-old Leveraging Scale for Value initiative, where UC’s five medical centers are working to collaborate as a system to save in the range of $100 million to $150 million a year, focusing initially on supply chain, revenue cycle and clinical laboratories.

“I feel energized about what we can do to spread innovations and help UC Health and the UC system demonstrate the way for others,” Stobo said.

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Entrepreneurship program prepares inventors to launch startups

UCSF helping to support its innovators who seek to commercialize life-changing inventions.

By Bob Rose

As a young girl growing up in the outskirts of Bombay, India, Charvi Shetty has distinct memories of her mother and older brother struggling to breathe.

Beyond coping with the air pollution that sometimes blankets their homeland, both family members suffered from chronic asthma. Shetty’s Filipino mother and Indian father wanted opportunities that India could not provide, so they immigrated to Petaluma with their children when Shetty was 10 years old.

“My parents wanted my brother Rajiz and me to have a better life by receiving a college education in America,” she said.

Her asthmatic mother and brother sparked Shetty’s interest in biology during high school, which led to her majoring in bioengineering at UC Berkeley. Upon graduating in 2012, Shetty enrolled at UC San Francisco where she pursued a master’s degree in biomedical imaging.

During that time, she developed an affordable medical device that measures lung function and capacity, and detects early onset of asthma. An accompanying mobile app can assist hospitals, as well as parents and individuals, with tools that measure airways and response to medications.

Shetty’s invention, which could significantly improve the quality of life for asthmatics, can benefit millions but only if the device can successfully go to market. And that’s the rub for many aspiring UCSF students and recent graduates, whose expertise is in research or patient care, not the business world.

Entrepreneurial ecosystem

Shetty’s story is not unusual, but there is hope for innovators like her. UCSF restarted its Entrepreneurship Center in March 2012. The program helps companies start from UCSF inventions and has built an entrepreneurial ecosystem at the University. UCSF’s environment is unique, differing from other universities such as Berkeley, Harvard and Stanford because UCSF lacks a business school or a computer science program whose specialized expertise can help innovators build apps.

Stephanie Marrus, who holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, directs the Entrepreneurship Center. She has worked with hundreds of companies in science- and technology-based industries.

She recently partnered with tech entrepreneur Steve Blank, who has changed the paradigm of entrepreneurship education in the U.S. and last year was named one of the 30 most influential people in Tech by Forbes magazine. Marrus and Blank adapted his nationally respected course, Lean LaunchPad, to the life science and health care audience at UCSF.

Over the past three years, Marrus has recruited a network of 200 mentors and advisers with backgrounds as life sciences CEOs, investors, attorneys and consultants from Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to advise students in the courses and UCSF entrepreneurs outside the classroom.

Meaningful mentorship

The Entrepreneurship Center provides training on startup businesses, hosts top-tier speakers from the business world, organizes a support group for serious UCSF entrepreneurs, and holds events open to UCSF, Berkeley, Stanford, startup accelerators and the business community.

“What I really learned from the class was that the greatest innovation isn’t necessarily the product,” Shetty said. “It’s the novel and innovative business model.”

As part of her participation in the Lean LaunchPad program, Shetty spoke to numerous people with asthma. She was also paired with an experienced venture capitalist as her mentor — a physician who has founded several companies.

“We tested a whole bunch of hypotheses,” Shetty added. “Was there a real need for kids? Was there a real need by doctors? Will individuals pay for the product or will they need to be reimbursed?”

Her efforts have been supported by an international company-building program called Founder.org, which helped to advance her fledgling company, Knox Medical. She competed with teams from 24 schools in the U.S. and Europe and was selected from approximately 1,000 applicants.

Last fall the National Institutes of Health piloted the Lean LaunchPad class based on the UCSF model to help aspiring life science entrepreneurs commercialize their technology. UCSF is continuing to teach the course on its campus and is extending its reach to the other UC biomedical campuses this June, including UCLA, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Davis.

“We are excited that Lean LaunchPad in the life science/health care domain is becoming recognized as the model for training scientific and clinical entrepreneurs,” Marrus said. “We believe that this market-based approach to vetting startup ideas can make the difference between success and failure.”

The program could not come at a better time for UCSF, which is increasing its dedication to entrepreneurship in line with the UC president’s priorities.

Avoiding pitfalls

Hobart Harris, M.D., who has served as chief of general surgery at UCSF for the past 13 years, believes the Lean LaunchPad program is indispensable. Harris, a Harvard graduate who founded Vitruvian Medical Devices in 2012, saw firsthand how novice entrepreneurs can fall victim to faulty logic.

“I had fallen prey to a very common assumption that I think naïve or inexperienced entrepreneurs suffer and that is thinking that if your idea works, then all the additional steps required to bring your idea to the marketplace will just fall into place, like a row of dominoes,” Harris said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. When I attended the Lean LaunchPad course, through the interview process we saw our ideas kind of turned on their head in respect to both pricing and what would be the required information that would compel users to buy our product.”

The Flint, Michigan, native soon discovered that obtaining the regulatory approval for his product would cost more than $75 million and take four to five years. That realization led him to change the nature of the device and the patient population he would first look to serve.

“It probably would have been years before we ultimately realized we were taking the inappropriate path or approach,” Harris added. “I can say this: There have been two or three courses in my entire education that have genuinely changed the way I think, and this course is one of those.”

Innovation through adversity

Ernesto Diaz Flores, Ph.D., an assistant adjunct professor at UCSF and founder of Challenging Solutions, is another passionate advocate of the Lean LaunchPad program.

Born in El Salvador, his family moved to Spain when he was 10 years old. Since his childhood, Diaz Flores gravitated to athletics and displayed remarkable footwork as a competitive tennis player and also as a flamenco dancer. He was also an outstanding scholar, eventually earning a B.S. degree in biochemistry at University Complutense of Madrid — and finishing in the top five in his class — and then obtaining a Ph.D. at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in molecular biology with honors.

Yet, it was when he was derailed as a tennis player and dancer that his professional career began to take shape.

“When I was doing my Ph.D. work, I broke my left foot,” Diaz Flores recalled. “I tried to go to work on a cast and crutches but after getting to work, I realized I couldn’t use my hands very much because of the crutches.”

His only option to stay productive was to use a wheelchair.

“I soon realized how people with low or no mobility from the waist down get disabled by the chair itself,” he said. ”You cannot stand or reach high or be at eye level with your friends, even when you have partial or full mobility in the upper body.”

He hoped someone would eventually address this limiting feature, but as the years went by nobody did.

“People were still locked in one position in wheelchairs, so I decided to work on a device and bring it to fruition,” Diaz Flores said. “That’s how the idea was born.”

He designed and developed an innovative mobility device that allowed wheelchair-bound people to both sit and stand, and stably ride in both positions at adjustable speeds. His invention is also a hybrid in that a client can operate it in manual mode, which helps with exercising, or in automatic, which facilitates transportation. The device, which has a cutting-edge appearance, also is compact and lighter than the conventional wheelchair, allowing entry to non-accessible places like some restrooms and through narrow doors.

“When I started this venture, I had no entrepreneurial background so I took courses from the Entrepreneurship Center at UCSF,” Diaz Flores said. “That was an eye-opening experience into a world that was completely foreign to me. It helped me get acquainted with the different financial process, lingo and things that I needed to put in place to have a successful venture.”

After much time and effort, including seeking customer feedback on design and physical needs, Diaz Flores has established his team members and now the company is incorporated. He reports that the venture is close to having its first functional prototype and will start to test it.

Meanwhile, he continues to take courses and attend lectures organized by the Entrepreneurship Center and meets regularly with Marrus to seek her input and advice.

These anecdotes reflect how vital this program has been to not only Diaz Flores but also hundreds of other inventors who are fast establishing UCSF as one of the leading entrepreneurial universities in life sciences and health care.

“The mere fact that such a center exists here at UCSF serves as demonstration of the University’s investment in the futures of its trainees,” said Nima Emami, a current Ph.D. student studying bioinformatics in the Graduate Division. “It was a major factor in my decision to pursue my Ph.D. at UCSF over several other top research universities in my field.”

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Calico licenses technology from UCSF laboratory

Project seeks to develop potential therapies for cognitive decline.

Calico, a company whose mission is to harness advanced technologies to increase understanding of the biology that controls human lifespan, and UC San Francisco have partnered on an innovative project to develop potential therapies for cognitive decline.

Under the agreement, Calico will receive an exclusive license to technology discovered in the laboratory of Peter Walter, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF. Walter is an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and recipient of the prestigious Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 2014.

The agreement is focused on modulators of the integrated stress response (ISR), a set of processes activated in cells under conditions of stress. Under some circumstances, the ISR can be deleterious. For example, under certain circumstances the ISR may contribute to memory decline, a significant problem potentially addressed by the licensed technology.

“We are delighted to enter into this agreement with UCSF and we are excited to translate these research findings into potential treatments for age-related cognitive disorders,” commented Hal Barron, Calico’s president of research and development. “Peter is a world-class basic scientist whose insights have fundamentally changed our understanding of how cells function under stress.”

The work conducted in the Walter laboratory was led by Carmela Sidrauski, a former UCSF researcher and now a scientist at Calico.

“Calico will be a great partner to explore the promise of our research,” Walter said. “Their commitment includes conducting key additional research, hiring outstanding investigators like Carmela and providing critical development expertise.”

Under the terms of the agreement, UCSF will receive an undisclosed up-front fee, and potential milestone and royalty payments. Calico will take responsibility for further research, development and commercialization of resulting therapeutics.

This partnership was facilitated by the UCSF Office of Innovation, Technology & Alliances (ITA), which coordinates UCSF’s efforts in forging collaborations and licensing technologies that translate cutting-edge science on campus into therapies and products that directly benefit patients worldwide.

Calico (Calico Life Sciences LLC) is a Google-founded research and development company whose mission is to harness advanced technologies to increase our understanding of the biology that controls lifespan. Calico will use that knowledge to devise interventions that enable people to lead longer and healthier lives.

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Qualcomm Institute launches industry innovation space at UC San Diego

Half of the initial tenants are startup ventures led by UC San Diego faculty, staff or students.

The second floor of Atkinson Hall will house the new Qualcomm Institute Innovation Space, initially with seven tenants and more on the way.

By Doug Ramsey, UC San Diego

Working closely with other campus entities to translate ideas from the lab into products and companies in the marketplace, the Qualcomm Institute has launched an Innovation Space where qualified faculty startups, industry partners or national laboratories can lease office or lab space inside the research institute’s headquarters building on the UC San Diego campus.

“The Qualcomm Institute Innovation Space is an important new addition to the university’s growing ecosystem supporting entrepreneurship and technology transfer,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “The facility will complement existing campus units that include venture-capital accelerators, incubators, tech transfer and entrepreneurism centers to promote commercialization of research findings.” Those units include the Triton Fund and the recently created UC Ventures fund, EvoNexus (open to campus startups), the university’s Technology Transfer Office, as well as the Moxie Center for Student Entrepreneurship, The von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center, and The Basement, a combined incubator/accelerator program for student entrepreneurs launched in February.

The Qualcomm Institute is the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), whose original mandate included close engagement with industry. Consistent with that mandate, the Qualcomm Institute Innovation Space (QIIS) has carved out roughly 6,000 square feet of space on the second floor of Atkinson Hall. Most of the available space has already been committed to the first half-dozen applicants that were accepted into the program.

“Tenants in the Innovation Space lease space and avail themselves of our technical services at external user’s rates,” said Qualcomm Institute Director Ramesh Rao. “Our goal is to nurture these companies by helping them leverage the state’s investments in science and innovation and help with California’s economic development when they move off campus.”

QIIS tenants must go through a rigorous selection process to lease space for a maximum of two years, after which they are expected to exit the facility to make room for newcomers.

Among the earliest tenants, Comhear Inc. recognized the importance of being close to the institute’s researchers after signing a multi-million-dollar deal in 2014 to develop products jointly with the Qualcomm Institute’s Sonic Arts R&D group, led by Peter Otto. “We are building a line of new products based on an exclusive license to audio beamforming technology originally developed by Peter Otto’s group,” said Comhear CEO Randy Granovetter. “In our collaboration with the Qualcomm Institute, Comhear has now developed a suite of innovative audio software, products and services for spatial conferencing in unified communications, gaming, music and streaming video. We continue to work closely with his team, but our business is expanding so we had to locate some of our people outside of the Innovation Space close to the university, while leaving a few who work most intensively with their university counterparts.”

Another established company and newcomer to the QIIS facility is Technosylva, which has offices in Spain and California. The company develops advanced GIS-enabled software solutions for wildfire protection planning, operational response as well as firefighter and public safety. Products include software models and programs for fuels mapping, fire behavior analysis, simulation modeling and wildfire risk assessment. Technosylva has worked closely with Qualcomm Institute researchers on the WIFIRE project and recognized the value of setting up shop just an elevator-ride away from the WIFIRE team.

“Our expertise in predictive modeling and field emergency-response technology is a perfect complement to QI’s expertise in communications, sensors, and visualization technologies,” said Technosylva President Joaquin Ramirez, who was a visiting scholar at the Qualcomm Institute in summer 2013. “By having the opportunity to co-locate, we have a tremendous opportunity to incubate disruptive technologies to change the way real-time wildland fire modeling, mitigation and response is done.”

RAM Photonics LLC has worked closely with the Qualcomm Institute’s Photonic Systems Lab over the past three years, and currently licenses technology from UC San Diego.

“Having an office located in the QI Innovation Space will facilitate more rapid development from university research results into commercialized products,” said RAM Photonics President John Marciante. “Closer interaction with UCSD researchers in photonics and electronics is invaluable to transitioning that technology, and hopefully future technologies, to the marketplace.”

The company has three target markets for its specialty, high-performance fiber systems: telecommunications, data communications and medical imaging.


While the Innovation Space is open to outside companies such as Technosylva, RAM Photonics and Comhear that benefit from proximity to university collaborators, half of the initial tenants are startup ventures led by UC San Diego faculty, staff or students. Those ventures include VirBELA, Sinopia Biosciences and STEAM Engine.

VirBELA was incubated at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management with a $1.7 million grant from the Graduate Management Admission Council. VirBELA used that grant to develop and demonstrate an immersive, 3-D virtual-reality campus environment that hosted a global business-simulation competition for management students at top universities on three continents.

“We have several ongoing customers for our virtual campus technology, but we are also expanding into other 3-D virtual worlds and games for learning and development,” said VirBELA CEO Alex Howland, who was program director of VirBELA prior to its spinout from the Rady School last December. “Having space in the QIIS facility will allow us to stay close to the large community of developers on campus, while we also expand our efforts to find new customers as well as financial support from the venture-capital community.”

STEAM Engine Inc. is an education technology startup co-founded by Qualcomm Institute research scientist/explorer Albert Yu-Min Lin; chief creative officer Vijay Lakshman, a master game designer behind such titles as “Lord of the Rings Online,” the “Elder Scrolls” series, and “Animal Jam”; and former National Geographic president and STEAM Engine chief executive officer, Tim Kelly, based in Washington, D.C. The STEAM Engine team at QIIS will be part of developing the first game-based immersive learning platform focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

“We are excited to have offices in the Qualcomm Institute Innovation Space and to be part of this cutting-edge research community,” Kelly said. “We intend to collaborate closely with several of the research groups in QIIS, including Albert’s labs and the UC San Diego Design Lab, among others.”

Sinopia Biosciences is a startup spun out of UC San Diego bioengineering professor Bernhard Palsson’s Systems Biology Research Group. Co-founder Aarash Bordbar is a recent graduate (B.S. ’08, Ph.D.’14) and former president of the Bioengineering Graduate Society at UC San Diego. Sinopia applies systems biology and bioinformatics to hematology and pharmacology.

“We are developing a computational platform that is comprised of statistical and mechanistic models for analyzing large, high-throughput data sets for a couple of biomedical problems,” said Bordbar. “Our predictive platform attempts to use such high-powered computation for transfusion medicine applications and for understanding the mechanisms of how pharmaceuticals cause side effects. We believe these computational approaches uniquely position us to quickly develop novel experimental and clinical strategies that would have been daunting to devise otherwise.”

Palsson and Bordbar gave talks discussing Sinopia’s platform at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Association of Blood Banks and the 2015 annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Last year, Sinopia received a Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.


Not all occupants of the Qualcomm Institute Innovation Space are for-profit enterprises. A team of UC San Diego researchers is helping to make universal education a reality through the Foundation for Learning Equality (FLE). As its website proclaims, FLE is “bridging the global digital divide by bringing the online learning revolution offline.”

“It’s estimated that one in three children worldwide lacks access to a quality basic education,” said Jamie Alexandre, a recent UC San Diego alumnus in cognitive science (Ph.D. ’14) who interned at Khan Academy before forming FLE along with a group of other UCSD students. “Sixty percent of the global population lacks the connectivity needed to access online education, so we have been developing an offline version of Khan Academy. Since being launched in December of 2012, the open-source platform, KA Lite, has now been installed in more than 140 countries and is used by thousands of schools, orphanages, community centers, refugee camps and prisons.” The offline server can be downloaded and run on a basic device such as a Raspberry Pi or on aging Windows PCs, then other devices nearby can connect to that server to access the Khan Academy videos, do exercises and track their progress. A teacher with a single server can provide a classroom of 35 students with simultaneous access to KA Lite, and track their progress using teacher dashboard tools to enable them to most effectively intervene and help students who are struggling.

Single point of engagement

The Qualcomm Institute provides a single point of engagement to enable all campus transactions ahead of occupancy. The approved lease is executed through the campus Real Estate Office. If any service agreement is involved, it is processed through the university’s Procurement Office, while any IP arrangements or material transfer agreements are secured through the Tech Transfer Office. On-campus parking permits are also available for purchase by QIIS occupants.

Limited square footage is still available for leasing in the Innovation Space. Interested parties can download the application for admission online and email the completed application to innovation@calit2.net. Applications are reviewed by the institute’s Executive Council and, subject to formal approval, tenants must agree to Atkinson Hall building occupancy rules by signing a facility use agreement.

Factors affecting the selection process include: letters of support from other UC San Diego, regional or national organizations (e.g., CONNECT, BIOCOM, EvoNexus, von Liebig Center); relevance to the strategic plans of UC San Diego and the Qualcomm Institute; depth and breadth of collaborations with the institute and/or other campus units; and commitment to community education through the use of interns, entrepreneur education via community outreach, and mentor programs.

The Qualcomm Institute Innovation Space also will help foster collaborative creation of intellectual property (IP) involving University of California and non-UC personnel – thereby extending the prevailing base of engagement built on IP entirely generated by UC personnel and licensed to other parties.

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Taking up the tricorder challenge in the spirit of ‘Bones’

UC San Diego professor heads Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE physician oversight team.

By Patti Wieser, UC San Diego

Working on the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE is, well, a bit infectious.

“’Star Trek’ is one of the things that tugs on the heart strings of many around the world and I’m not immune to that,” said Gene “Rusty” Kallenberg, M.D., professor and vice chair, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Kallenberg is leading the physician oversight team for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE for which the UC San Diego Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTRI) has been selected as the testing site. Inspired by the medical tricorder in the “Star Trek TV series and movies, the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE is a global competition sponsored by the Qualcomm Foundation to develop a consumer-friendly, mobile device capable of diagnosing and interpreting 15 physiological conditions and capturing vital health metrics. Ten teams from six different countries have been selected as finalists. As part of the final testing round, teams will compete in both diagnostic experience evaluations and consumer testing, beginning this summer. The final judging and awards ceremony will then take place in early 2016 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek TV show.

“We are very excited to partner with UC San Diego on this important stage of the competition,” said Grant Campany, senior director, Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE. “Our finalist teams are developing real medical Tricorder devices that must diagnose 15 medical conditions and capture five vital signs, but the submissions must also be packaged in a consumer-friendly manner. Therefore, this final testing phase is critical in seeing how consumer testers recruited by UC San Diego respond to the overall experience.”

In his Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE role, Kallenberg is enlisting the support of physicians in the recruitment of consumer testers for the experimental devices. To help him, he assembled a physician oversight team, made up of UC San Diego physicians Dustin Lillie, Benjamin Johnson and Amy Leu. Consumer testers are volunteers with one or more of the 15 conditions who will test the devices and provide feedback via surveys. Kallenberg is confident the project will attract physicians and consumer testers alike.

Empower patients

“It’s intriguing, intellectually challenging and very much on the cutting edge of health care technology for enabling self-assessment, self-diagnosis and self-monitoring,” Kallenberg said. “A tricorder could empower patients.”

The physician oversight team first had to ensure there was enough epidemiological data to support the ability to find an adequate number of consumer testers.

“Having enough people is the biggest challenge,” Kallenberg said. “Cases for acute conditions such as pneumonia will come from day-to-day acute care settings and our primary care and emergency medicine colleagues; those for chronic conditions such as diabetes and atrial fibrillation will come from patient databases; and rarer conditions such as melanoma and tuberculosis will come from either specialty colleagues/clinics or county health departments.”

The team also is addressing the work flow associated with testing.

“How do you talk to potential testers, how do you gauge their willingness to help, and how do you logistically and mechanically carry out the testing?” Kallenberg asked.

His team is developing steps for orienting testers to the particular device they will use, having them use it, and enabling them to assess the user friendliness and experience of each. The project, while not actually a research study, has Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval in its capacity for oversight on patient privacy rules for the consumer testers. The testers, who are not research subjects, will be informed they are using prototypes.

The physician oversight team also will be in charge of monitoring any medical emergencies and fielding questions during the testing.

“This is a test of the devices’ ability to detect conditions which we already know testers have by virtue of other gold standard tests used in clinical practice,” said Kallenberg. “They will be testing a specific device to see if it can detect their condition.”

Some tests will take about an hour; others will require longer periods.

Kallenberg became involved in the project more than a year ago at the request of Erik Viirre, M.D., Ph.D., the medical and technical director for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE and an adjunct professor in the departments of neurosciences, surgery and cognitive science at UC San Diego. Viirre believed Epic, UC San Diego Health System’s electronic medical record system, would be an obvious way to identify patients as potential consumer testers, and asked Kallenberg if he would oversee the testing process.

“One thing about academic medicine is you get approached about interesting projects all the time and the other thing about academic medicine is you often say ‘yes,’” said Kallenberg with a grin. “I thought this project was intriguing from the start. Once the oversight team came together and we got into the project, it became infectiously fascinating.”

From house calls to high-tech tricorders

Kallenberg hails from a family of physicians. As a youngster, he often accompanied his father, a GP, on house calls in Cincinnati’s underserved Over the Rhine district, to poor suburban homes with pot-bellied stoves and dirt floors, and to nursing facilities. Kallenberg described his dad as “very much old-style general practice medicine.” Kallenberg also had “bunches of uncles who were physicians and surgeons so medicine was pretty much in the blood,” he said. Contemporary relatives with medical connections include Kallenberg’s wife and his brother, both physicians; his sister, a nurse/counselor; and in-laws, nieces and nephews who have direct or indirect links to medicine. Along his path — from growing up in Ohio to receiving a medical degree at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and completing his internship and fellowship training at Harbor-UCLA County Medical Center, to caring for patients, teaching medical students and supporting an integrative medicine approach — Kallenberg has marveled at medical and technological advancements that improve the lives of humans.

Star Trek: The Next Generation made him a true Trekkie, but since the beginning, the show has sparked his interest in medical technology and created an abiding interest in the medical staff of Starfleet starships. “I’ve always kept an eye on the physicians in ‘Star Trek,’” he said. “I use Bones (McCoy), Beverly Crusher and Voyager’s Emergency Medical Hologram duty officer as examples of primary care physicians when talking to medical students.”

He lauded the philosophy of Star Trek” and described creator Gene Roddenberry as a “genius” who tapped into what was truly essential about mankind. “The wonderful thing about ‘Star Trek is that it exemplified what humanity could be and hopefully will become,” Kallenberg said. “The series had human, philosophical stories about life, with ethical challenges and conundrums, and wonderful adventures, and they had the timeline for achieving that enlightened state about right, too — the 2400s!”

For Kallenberg and his team, the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE is a Star Trek-inspired adventure that just may move the tricorder from science fiction to science reality.

“Wired health care is the next step, and the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE is part of that future,” Kallenberg said.

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Good bone, bad bone

Scientists explore new parameter of bone quality that measures strength instead of density.

By Julie Cohen, UC Santa Barbara

For people taking glucocorticoids such as prednisone, the increased risk of bone fracture is a well-documented side effect. Used to treat a variety of medical conditions, including autoimmune diseases and allergies, glucocorticoids are known to cause rapid deterioration in bone strength.

Until now, doctors have been able to measure bone loss — a process that happens slowly, over time — but haven’t had the means for gauging actual bone strength. That has changed thanks to a new hand-held instrument developed in the Hansma Lab at UC Santa Barbara. Called the OsteoProbe, the device uses reference point indentation (RPI) to measure mechanical properties of bone at the tissue level.

A new clinical trial, conducted at the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, Spain, shows that RPI is sensitive enough to reflect changes in cortical bone indentation following treatment with osteoporosis therapies in patients newly exposed to glucocorticoids. Standard measurement techniques were unable to detect bone changes in this patient population. The trial results are reported in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

“This new paper is a real breakthrough because it’s the first time it’s been possible to do a longitudinal study of bone material properties in patients,” said co-author Paul Hansma, professor emeritus in UCSB’s Department of Physics. “Up until now, medical professionals have been limited to doing bone mineral density studies, which can take a year or more to show bone changes.”

According to Hansma, measuring bone mineral density (BMD) using today’s standard, dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) provides only a partial picture. “DXA measures density, which sounds like a material property but isn’t,” he said. “DXA measures how much calcium bone contains but provides no information about bone quality, and it’s not just how much bone you have that’s important, it’s how good that bone is.”

The OsteoProbe works similarly to a center punch — the tool that makes a slight indentation on a surface to indicate the correct placement of a nail. It sets a localized reference point at the bone’s surface that enables precise indentation measurements of bone strength. It was developed by Hansma and colleagues Connor Randall and Dan Bridges, staff research associate and development assistant engineer, respectively, in UCSB’s Department of Physics.

The instrument is now manufactured for commercial research applications by ActiveLife Scientific, a Santa Barbara company founded by UCSB graduates Davis Brimer and Alex Proctor. Brimer and Proctor won the campus’s annual New Venture Competition in 2007 and used the $10,000 prize as startup capital.

About the device

The OsteoProbe measures the bone material strength index (BMSi), which in previously published papers has been shown to be a valuable predictor of bone fracture risk. The index values are similar to percentage scores on an exam. A BMSi of 90 or greater is excellent, 80 to 90 good, 70 to 80 fair, 60 to 70 poor and below 60 very poor.

A study conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, demonstrated the device’s ability to successfully detect bone quality deterioration in diabetic patients, independent of BMD. In another study conducted at Leiden University in the Netherlands, the tool successfully distinguished between patients with and without fracture, not only in patients with osteoporosis but also in those with osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis.

“Bone fracture is becoming more and more of a serious problem as people live longer,” Hansma said. “It’s exciting that it’s now possible to measure BMSi in living patients and hopefully this can guide physicians in the future in choosing appropriate therapies to prevent bone fracture, especially in elderly people.”

Research is ongoing

Exactly how the BMSi relates to the specialized quantities measured by conventional mechanical testing is a focus of current research. In fact, in a recent paper published in the Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials, UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang and two of his graduate students used finite element analysis to investigate the link between BMSi and the mechanical properties of bone itself.

“What’s new in this paper is the ability to correlate indentation measurements from patients’ bones to computer simulations that can predict the strength of the bones,” said Yang, who is also a professor of mechanical engineering. “Such predictions are based on the measured material properties of the bone samples. The results open the door to clinical applications in diagnosis and monitoring, in performing orthopedic surgeries and in developing new therapies.”

The paper’s lead author, Kevin Hoffseth, a graduate student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, noted that the study results suggest RPI could become an integral part in linking clinical results to the mechanical properties of bone related to its health.

“Combining theory and experiment with finite element simulations and indentation testing was an effective approach to study bone indentation and failure — and the link to mechanical properties,” he said.

Clinical trials currently underway in some 20 locations are exploring bone health in a variety of ways. One European study is comparing the bone quality of patients in Norway to that of patients in Spain. People in Norway tend to have higher BMD and a greater frequency of fracture than do people in Spain, Hansma noted.

“That’s the opposite of what it should be if BMD were all that mattered,” he added. “So that means that BMD isn’t all that matters and the hope is that this instrument will reveal the difference in the BMSi between patients in Norway and in Spain.”

Hansma posited that such medical bone diagnostics could become an important feature of future therapeutic treatments.

“Now that it is possible to measure whether bone is good or bad in research studies, we can begin learning what diet, exercises, vitamins and pharmaceutical drugs contribute to making bone good,” he said. “After the OsteoProbe gets FDA approval, individual physicians will be able to use it to help them decide about the best therapeutic treatments for their patients.”

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‘Smart bandage’ detects bedsores before they are visible to doctors

UC Berkeley findings could provide major boost to tackling a growing health problem.

By Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, are developing a new type of bandage that does far more than stanch the bleeding from a paper cut or scraped knee.

Thanks to advances in flexible electronics, the researchers, in collaboration with colleagues at UC San Francisco, have created a new “smart bandage” that uses electrical currents to detect early tissue damage from pressure ulcers, or bedsores, before they can be seen by human eyes – and while recovery is still possible.

“We set out to create a type of bandage that could detect bedsores as they are forming, before the damage reaches the surface of the skin,” said Michel Maharbiz, a UC Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and head of the smart-bandage project. “We can imagine this being carried by a nurse for spot-checking target areas on a patient, or it could be incorporated into a wound dressing to regularly monitor how it’s healing.”

The researchers exploited the electrical changes that occur when a healthy cell starts dying. They tested the thin, non-invasive bandage on the skin of rats and found that the device was able to detect varying degrees of tissue damage consistently across multiple animals.

Tackling a growing health problem

The findings, published today (March 17) in the journal Nature Communications, could provide a major boost to efforts to stem a health problem that affects an estimated 2.5 million U.S. residents at an annual cost of $11 billion.

Pressure ulcers, or bedsores, are injuries that can result after prolonged pressure cuts off adequate blood supply to the skin. Areas that cover bony parts of the body, such as the heels, hips and tailbone, are common sites for bedsores. Patients who are bedridden or otherwise lack mobility are most at risk.

“By the time you see signs of a bedsore on the surface of the skin, it’s usually too late,” said Dr. Michael Harrison, a professor of surgery at UCSF and a co-investigator  of the study. “This bandage could provide an easy early-warning system that would allow intervention before the injury is permanent. If you can detect bedsores early on, the solution is easy. Just take the pressure off.”

Bedsores are associated with deadly septic infections, and recent research has shown that odds of a patient dying are 2.8 times higher when they have pressure ulcers. The growing prevalence of diabetes and obesity has increased the risk factors for bedsores.

“The genius of this device is that it’s looking at the electrical properties of the tissue to assess damage. We currently have no other way to do that in clinical practice,” said Harrison. “It’s tackling a big problem that many people have been trying to solve in the last 50 years. As a clinician and someone who has struggled with this clinical problem, this bandage is great.”

Cells as capacitors and resistors

The researchers printed an array of dozens of electrodes onto a thin, flexible film. They discharged a very small current between the electrodes to create a spatial map of the underlying tissue based upon the flow of electricity at different frequencies, a technique called impedance spectroscopy.

The researchers pointed out that a cell’s membrane is relatively impermeable when functioning properly, thus acting like an insulator to the cell’s conductive contents and drawing the comparison to a capacitor. As a cell starts to die, the integrity of the cell wall starts to break down, allowing electrical signals to leak through, much like a resistor.

“Our device is a comprehensive demonstration that tissue health in a living organism can be locally mapped using impedance spectroscopy,” said study lead author Sarah Swisher, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley.

To mimic a pressure wound, the researchers gently squeezed the bare skin of rats between two magnets. They left the magnets in place for one or three hours while the rats resumed normal activity. The resumption of blood flow after the magnets were removed caused inflammation and oxidative damage that accelerated cell death. The smart bandage was used to collect data once a day for at least three days to track the progress of the wounds.

The smart bandage was able to detect changes in electrical resistance consistent with increased membrane permeability, a mark of a dying cell. Not surprisingly, one hour of pressure produced mild, reversible tissue damage while three hours of pressure produced more serious, permanent injury.

Promising future

“One of the things that makes this work novel is that we took a comprehensive approach to understanding how the technique could be used to observe developing wounds in complex tissue,” said Swisher. “In the past, people have used impedance spectroscopy for cell cultures or relatively simple measurements in tissue. What makes this unique is extending that to detect and extract useful information from wounds developing in the body. That’s a big leap.”

Maharbiz said the outlook for this and other smart bandage research is bright.

“As technology gets more and more miniaturized, and as we learn more and more about the responses the body has to disease and injury, we’re able to build bandages that are very intelligent,” he said. “You can imagine a future where the bandage you or a physician puts on could actually report a lot of interesting information that could be used to improve patient care.”

Other lead researchers on the project include Vivek Subramanian and Ana Claudia Arias, both faculty members in UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences; and Shuvo Roy, a UCSF professor of bioengineering. Additional co-authors include Amy Liao and Monica Lin, both UC Berkeley Ph.D. students in bioengineering; and Yasser Khan, a UC Berkeley Ph.D. student in electrical engineering and computer sciences, who fabricated the sensor array.

Study co-author Dr. David Young, UCSF professor of surgery, is now heading up a clinical trial of this bandage.

The project is funded through the Flexible Resorbable Organic and Nanomaterial Therapeutic Systems (FRONTS) program of the National Science Foundation.

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Necklace and smartphone app can help people track food intake

UCLA-developed app could help battle obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

WearSens rests loosely above the sternum and uses highly sensitive sensors to capture vibrations from the action of swallowing.

By Bill Kisliuk, UCLA

A sophisticated necklace developed by researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science can monitor food and drink intake, which could help wearers track and improve their dietary habits.

The inventors of the WearSens device say it could help battle obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other problems related to nutrition.

Majid Sarrafzadeh, a distinguished professor of computer science and co-director of UCLA’s Wireless Health Institute, led a team that created the device and an algorithm that translates data from the necklace, and tested it on 30 people who ate a variety of foods.

The researchers found that WearSens can differentiate between solids and liquids with 87 percent accuracy, between hot drinks and room-temperature drinks with 90 percent accuracy, and between food items with different textures with 80 percent accuracy. Researchers say those figures will improve as users calibrate the device based on their eating habits.

The research was published online by the IEEE Sensors Journal.

“Today, many people try to track their food intake with journals, but this is often not effective or convenient,” Sarrafzadeh said. “This technology allows individuals and health care professionals to monitor intake with greater accuracy and more immediacy.”

WearSens rests loosely above the sternum and uses highly sensitive piezoelectric sensors to capture vibrations from the action of swallowing. Piezoelectric sensors produce voltage based on the mechanical stress — or movement or pressure — that is applied to them.

When the wearer eats or drinks, skin and muscle motion from the lower trachea trigger the sensors, and the necklace transmits the signals to a smartphone, where the UCLA-developed algorithm converts the data into information about the food or beverage. The phone displays data about the volume of food or liquid consumed and can offer advice or analysis; for example, that the wearer is eating more than in previous days or that the person should drink more water.

With the WearSens device, the sensor information is translated using a spectrogram, which offers a visual representation of vibrations picked up by the sensors. Spectrograms are often used in speech therapy and seismology, among other applications.

“The breakthroughs are in the design of the necklace, which is simple and does not interfere with daily activity, and in identifying statistical measures that distinguish food intake based on spectrogram images generated from piezoelectric sensor signals,” said Nabil Alshurafa, a graduate student researcher at UCLA who is a co-inventor of the device and the first author of the research.

The study’s other authors are co-inventor Haik Kalantarian, a graduate student researcher; Shruti Sarin and Behnam Shahbazi, also graduate student researchers; Jason Liu, who was a UCLA graduate student at the time he worked on the research; and postdoctoral researcher Mohammad Pourhomayoun.

The team is continuing to refine the algorithms and the necklace’s design. The researchers hope WearSens will be available to the public later this year.

The technology is available for licensing via the UCLA Office of Intellectual Property and Industry-Sponsored Research, which facilitates the conversion of UCLA research to benefit the public.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

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Pens filled with high-tech inks for do-it-yourself sensors

New simple tool is opening door to where anyone will be able to build sensors, anywhere.

By Ioana Patringenaru, UC San Diego

A new simple tool developed by nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego, is opening the door to an era when anyone will be able to build sensors, anywhere, including physicians in the clinic, patients in their home and soldiers in the field.

The team from the University of California, San Diego, developed high-tech bio-inks that react with several chemicals, including glucose. They filled off-the-shelf ballpoint pens with the inks and were able to draw sensors to measure glucose directly on the skin and sensors to measure pollution on leaves.

Skin and leaves aren’t the only media on which the pens could be used. Researchers envision sensors drawn directly on smart phones for personalized and inexpensive health monitoring or on external building walls for monitoring of toxic gas pollutants. The sensors also could be used on the battlefield to detect explosives and nerve agents.

The team, led by Joseph Wang, the chairman of the Department of NanoEngineering at the University of California, San Diego, published their findings in the Feb. 26 issue of Advanced Healthcare Materials. Wang also directs the Center for Wearable Sensors at UC San Diego.

“Our new biocatalytic pen technology, based on novel enzymatic inks, holds considerable promise for a broad range of applications on site and in the field,” Wang said.

The biggest challenge the researchers faced was making inks from chemicals and biochemicals that aren’t harmful to humans or plants; could function as the sensors’ electrodes; and retain their properties over long periods in storage and in various conditions. Researchers turned to biocompatible polyethylene glycol, which is used in several drug delivery applications, as a binder. To make the inks conductive to electric current they used graphite powder. They also added chitosan, an antibacterial agent which is used in bandages to reduce bleeding, to make sure the ink adhered to any surfaces it was used on. The inks’ recipe also includes xylitol, a sugar substitute, which helps stabilize enzymes that react with several chemicals the do-it-yourself sensors are designed to monitor.

Reusable glucose sensors

Wang’s team has been investigating how to make glucose testing for diabetics easier for several years. The same team of engineers recently developed non-invasive glucose sensors in the form of temporary tattoos. In this study, they used pens, loaded with an ink that reacts to glucose, to draw reusable glucose-measuring sensors on a pattern printed on a transparent, flexible material which includes an electrode. Researchers then pricked a subject’s finger and put the blood sample on the sensor. The enzymatic ink reacted with glucose and the electrode recorded the measurement, which was transmitted to a glucose-measuring device. Researchers then wiped the pattern clean and drew on it again to take another measurement after the subject had eaten.

Researchers estimate that one pen contains enough ink to draw the equivalent of 500 high-fidelity glucose sensor strips. Nanoengineers also demonstrated that the sensors could be drawn directly on the skin and that they could communicate with a Bluetooth-enabled electronic device that controls electrodes called a potentiostat, to gather data.

Sensors for pollution and security

The pens would also allow users to draw sensors that detect pollutants and potentially harmful chemicals sensors on the spot. Researchers demonstrated that this was possible by drawing a sensor on a leaf with an ink loaded with enzymes that react with phenol, an industrial chemical, which can also be found in cosmetics, including sunscreen. The leaf was then dipped in a solution of water and phenol and the sensor was connected to a pollution detector. The sensors could be modified to react with many pollutants, including heavy metals or pesticides.

Next steps include connecting the sensors wirelessly to monitoring devices and investigating how the sensors perform in difficult conditions, including extreme temperatures, varying humidity and extended exposure to sunlight.

“Biocompatible Enzymatic Roller Pens for Direct Writing of Biocatalytic Materials: ‘Do-it-yourself’ Electrochemical Biosensors” is authored by Amay J. Bandodkar, Wenzhao Jia, Julian Ramirez and Wang.

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Eat.Think.Design: A public health course for the startup generation

UC Berkeley course feeds need for rethinking problems of food and nutrition.

By Tamara Straus, UC Berkeley

For the creators of the UC Berkeley course Eat.Think.Design, two things are certain.

First, the United States is facing a food and nutrition crisis, with rocketing rates of diabetes, hunger and health disparity.

Second, graduate students today — from fields as different as public health, business, information technology and engineering — want their education to be more hands-on, more interdisciplinary and more “impactful” to society at large.

In the case of the Eat.Think.Design course, they want to spend class time not just learning about food and nutrition problems, they want to devise actual food and nutrition solutions.

This may sound grand, but for the course’s three instructors — Jaspal Sandhu, a UC Berkeley lecturer in design and innovation; Nap Hosang, a longtime Kaiser Permanente medical doctor and UC Berkeley School of Public Health instructor; and Kristine Madsen, an associate professor in the Joint Medical Program and Public Health Nutrition at Cal’s School of Public Health — there is nothing grand or inappropriate about letting students attempt societal solutions while in graduate school.

“The reason we emphasize experiential learning is because it has proved to be more effective,” says Sandhu, who is also a partner at the Gobee Group, a consulting firm he runs with two other multilingual Fulbright scholars with UC Berkeley roots. Sandhu speaks Punjabi, Spanish, Mongolian and English, and prior to Gobee worked with the Mongolian Ministry of Health designing mobile health information systems.

Sandhu emphasizes that his students’ backgrounds demand more than lecturing. Among the 25 people enrolled in Eat.Think.Design this spring, many have relevant work experience. At least three have started their own companies, several have worked for big companies like IBM, Deloitte and Eli Lilly, and most have about five years under their belts working for government agencies or large nonprofits. “To keep the attention of such students,” says Sandhu, “we need to give them actual problems to focus on.”

Working in interdisciplinary teams of three under an instructor, Eat.Think.Design students spend the bulk of the semester on one project, conducting ethnographic and market research, investigating models and constantly devising and then revising potential solutions. Members of last year’s class, for example, streamlined SNAP federal nutrition benefits payments at San Francisco’s Heart of the City Farmer’s Market, worked with the Kossoye Development Program in Ethiopia on strategies to make home gardening more accessible and built a pilot program with Partners In Health: Navajo Nation to test a pop-up grocery store in areas that are one hour’s drive from fresh food. Although the project in the Navajo Nation helped COPE to receive a three-year, $3 million REACH grant from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to pursue healthy eating programs in the vast American Indian territory — Hosang argues that the course is not designed to incubate social innovations per se.

“Our goal is to incubate innovative people — people who can be influencers in the public health sector,” he says.

Hosang, who has served as head of the interdisciplinary online MPH degree program for the past 15 years and executive director of the Interdisciplinary MPH degree program since 2010, is not subtle in his criticism of public health teaching.

“Most academics are in a silo,” he said, “and their silo has driven them more and more into their specialist thinking.”

Yet this specialist thinking, Hosang argues, is running counter to the view that public health is enmeshed in almost every field — from architecture and transportation, to product design and education.

“We need to change the way public health professionals approach problems,” said Hosang, “and we need them to be in touch with people from other disciplines to inform their problem-solving processes.”

Hosang and Sandhu started working on their public health course in October 2010, after Hosang read Sandhu’s dissertation on public health design research in rural Mongolia and was impressed by the combination of grassroots and trial-and-error learning. In the spring of 2011, they launched their course, with financial support from the Blum Center for Developing Economies, which seeds interdisciplinary, social impact courses on campus. Madsen joined the course in 2014 when the focus narrowed from designing innovative public health solutions to designing innovative food solutions. In a forthcoming article in the American Journal of Public Health titled “Solutions That Stick: Activating Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration in a Graduate-Level Public Health Innovations Course at the University of California,” the three instructors describe how their approach is part of a much-needed pedagogical shift. They write:

A Lancet Commission, convened to discuss the education of health professionals in the 21st century, argued that educational transformation is critical to meet the public health problems we face in this century. Specifically, the commission called for a higher level of learning, moving beyond informative learning, which transmits knowledge to create experts, to transformative learning, which transmits leadership attributes to create agents who can successfully implement change.”

Sandhu explained that when he and Hosang came up with the idea for the course, not only was this “change agent” approach novel but no one was applying design thinking or human-centered design approaches at the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. (He describes those approaches as ones that enable teams to systematically develop novel, effective solutions to complex problems.) Yet Sandhu says it is clear there’s a demand for this kind of problem solving.

Sandhu’s proof is the continual over-enrollment in and rave reviews of his course. This year, 60 students applied for 25 spots. And for the past four years, 40 percent of students indicated it was the “best course” they took at UC Berkeley, with the other 40 percent stating it was in the “top 10 percent” and the rest saying it was in the “top 25 percent.”

Christine Hamann, an M.B.A./M.P.H. candidate who took Eat.Think.Design in 2014, confirmed that “the teaching team is phenomenal — both in terms of the academic leadership and the mentoring of graduate students.”

She also confirmed that she and her fellow students want “practical challenges in graduate school,” adding, “we are tired of theory.”

Hamann is one of the many students who has brought past work into the classroom. Before grad school, she worked for seven years at Partners In Health, most recently on the nonprofit’s COPE Project in the Navajo Nation. She said the course forced her to look at Navajo Nation residents’ consumer needs around food and nutrition — and to see food less as a supply issue and more of a demand issue.

“Traditional public health approaches focus on supply, but that is why you see programs that don’t meet the needs of the community,” she said.

Hamann and the three other graduate students opted not to focus on the best truck routes to bring fresh produce into the 27,000 square mile territory — and instead focused on seeing what citizens there want to consume and what can last in what is a food (and actual) desert. During the summer of 2014, with funding from the Blum Center, Hamann created pop-up grocery stores in Navajo, to determine which food items were most in demand and could help reduce chronic diseases like diabetes, which affects 20 percent of residents. This exploration helped lead to the aforementioned $3 million CDC grant for COPE.

As to why so many Cal students are so focused on food and nutrition, Hamann has this to say: “From a public health perspective, I think we’re seeing the ramifications of the American diet play out in really scary chronic disease indicators.” She also noted that there is a general heightened awareness of food systems — “of where food is coming from, the corporations that own it, and the detrimental effects those relationships can have on both health outcomes and business models.” Third, Hamann said a growing number of students want to see tech innovation applied to less wealthy and less urban populations—“the people,” she said, “who need it.”

Then, there are the galling statistics: Americans throw out an estimated 40 percent of food grown per year. An estimated 50 million Americans do not have access to enough food. As of 2012, about half of all adults — 117 million people — have one or more chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity and arthritis. And childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

Sandhu is aware that a course on food innovation is well timed at UC Berkeley. In 2013, UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, the Goldman School of Public Policy, the Graduate School of Journalism, Berkeley Law and the School of Public Health joined forces to create the Berkeley Food Institute to improve food systems locally and globally. A year later, UC President Janet Napolitano launched the UC Global Food Initiative — to prompt all 10 campuses, UC’s Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and a consortium of faculty, researchers and students to address food security, nutrition and sustainability issues. Even BigIdeas@Berkeley, the annual student innovation prize, has a contest category on food systems innovation.

“Our timing is either well forecasted or extremely lucky,” said Sandhu.

Eat.Think.Design may be a popular course — and may inspire copycats — but both students and instructors are quick to point out that the course cannot serve as a model for every graduate-level class.

“It is difficult to take more than one experiential class per semester,” said Hamann. “The time commitment with fellow students and with our client is just too big.”

Amy Regan, who took the course in 2013 and now works with the San Francisco Unified School District’s Future Dining Experience program, agrees that “compromising and agreeing on the best approach among a group takes time.”

For instructors, professor Madsen estimates the course requires one and a half to two times more time than an average School of Public Health offering, because she, Sandhu and Hosang each mentor three student groups during and after class time. The three instructors also spend time cultivating their connections to bring in student projects from nonprofits and government agencies. During the class on Feb. 4, 16 pitches were made by representatives of various organizations, including California Farm to Fork, San Quentin State Prison and Project Open Hand.

“Much more work goes into creating the class because of all the connections to be made,” said Madsen.

And very little is scripted. This gives the course the feeling of a kind of pedagogical startup, exciting but uncertain. Madsen said this atmosphere comes with a distinct disadvantage for professors.

“You have to admit you don’t know as much,” she said. “If your identity is wrapped up in being an academic expert, this won’t work; you’ll always default to the more narrow but comfortable path.”

For Sandhu and Hosang, who are adjuncts, there is less face to lose.

“I think over the last seven years, since the start of the Great Recession, there’s been a transformative energy happening in higher education,” said Hosang. “It’s coming from the younger generation who see the world has changed and who no longer see college as a ticket to success. That’s where this move toward an interdisciplinary, hands-on approach is coming from.”

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Wearable electronics device makes it easier to image infants

Flexible, lightweight and wearable electronics strategy has led to plans for clinical trials.

New wearable electronics will allow an infant to be swaddled in a blanket laced with a network of nearly weightless, printed “coils” for more comfortable, less expensive MRI scanning.

By Wallace Ravven

An infant born three months prematurely fails to flush pink at birth and has an alarmingly low blood pressure. Ultrasound identifies a heart abnormality and doctors rush the newborn to an MRI suite to confirm the diagnosis. But the scanning itself can cause physical agitation that interferes with clear imaging. In some cases, it can make it harder for the baby to breathe.

When scans require high sensitivity on a small area of the body, a hard, heavy vest of metal coils must press down on the baby. The bulky burden weighs more than the newborn. Infants squirm under the pressure, but anesthesia to calm them down adds an unwanted risk. Lightening the load by securing the weighty apparatus off the baby leads to degraded resolution, prompting a need for longer MRI exposures.

The hardware is part of the radio frequency (RF) coil assembly that receives the MRI’s electromagnetic signals. Besides being awkward and heavy, the coils are expensive to manufacture and must be reused for years. Sanitizing the bulky assembly is difficult.

Cut to a faculty lunch in 2011. UC Berkeley MRI expert Miki Lustig hears his colleague Ana Claudia Arias describe her lab’s progress adapting a technique similar to conventional ink jet printing to fabricate electronic devices.

It was a technology, Lustig says, that was “well beyond my comfort zone.” But he wondered if Arias’ printable electronics techniques could fabricate ultra-lightweight, “two-dimensional” RF coils to ease the trauma to tiny tots and improve image quality.

Lustig and Arias, both faculty members in the electrical engineering and computer sciences department, walked back to their offices together.

“I asked her if she thought RF coils could be printed. It just seemed like a good idea. She said ‘let me think about it.’ A few days later — almost immediately — she said we should give it a try. She started ordering materials to test different substrates and putting a team together.”

Printing electronic circuits and devices based on metals and semiconductors from solution is a very young field that Arias first entered in 2003 at the near-legendary Xerox PARC in Palo Alto. She came to PARC from Plastic Logic Limited, where she worked after finishing her Ph.D. in physics at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, U.K.

While at Xerox, Arias began to explore fabrication of wearable sensors. Her group developed several components of a flexible sensor that targeted the prevention of brain injuries by monitoring pressure, acoustic and light levels in the battlefield.

When she joined the Berkeley EECS faculty in 2011, she began to expand her collaborations to developed wearable medical devices that could track vital signs and give doctors feedback on their patients health.

“Printed electronics is an ideal technology for fabrication and integration of devices with different functionality, such as sensors, light sources and simple circuits. It is ideal for deposition of unique and customized designs. And when one adds flexible substrates to the equation you could start thinking about truly wearable — and comfortable — electronics”

To make “wearable electronics” for infant MRI patients, her team first tried to print directly onto cloth fabric.

“We wanted to make our coil feel like a swaddle blankie that fits snugly and softly around the babies,” she says.

But the cloth’s texture interfered with the ability to print high-quality capacitors, so the team turned to printing the “electronic inks” layer by layer onto plastic thin film, like what is used in photo transparencies. The lab succeeded in fabricating and demonstrating functioning RF coils with performance properties comparable to conventional RF coils.

Arias is supported by a Bakar Fellowship at Berkeley, support intended to help commercially promising research make the leap from the lab to the real world. She and Lustig plan to start a company to advance the technology into clinical use.

“We, researchers, don’t usually have experience and training with steps such as securing IP protection and developing a business plan to attract investment and ensure success. Mentors we met through the Bakar Program have been very helpful,” she says.

Their proof-in-principle of the flexible, lightweight and wearable electronics strategy has led to plans for clinical trials early next year. She and Lustig are collaborating with pediatrician Shreyas Vasanawala at Lucile Packard Children’s hospital to test the wearable RF coils on babies needing MRI scans. Vasanawala has been a key clinical consultant to the project from the beginning.

Arias sees the technology’s potential for adult MRI scanning as well — helping to make the MRI experience more comfortable and less scary to everyone, while getting better images of parts of the body that the bulky conventional RF coil assemblies don’t fit very well.

Meanwhile, she still has her eyes on developing that electronic blankie. “When you see kids in the hospital, it’s scary for them. When they’re in a blanket, it’s a much more comforting experience. We want to swaddle them.”

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