City Magazine 2014
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  1. Engineers at the forefront of healthcare
City Magazine 2014

Engineers at the forefront of healthcare

Biomedical Engineering at City

City's Biomedical Engineering Research Group (BERG), established in 2004, is leading the way in a discipline that is transforming developments in medicine and healthcare delivery. Under the leadership of Professor Panicos Kyriacou, the Group has as its mission the extension of the frontiers of science and technology by developing new tools and techniques to solve challenging medical problems.

More specifically, BERG's focus is on the use of engineering principles to advance understanding of how biological or physiological systems operate. The ultimate goals? The development of effective medical-based technologies for application across societal needs including breakthroughs in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and the design of novel devices, sensors and processes.

Reflecting BERG's twin emphases on advances in basic bioscience and applied biomedical engineering, Professor Kyriacou says the Group's work can be summed up succinctly as "creating biomedical technologies from design to the patient." The Group's principal areas of expertise are in medical sensors and instrumentation; biosignal and imaging analysis; biomedical optics; electrical impedance; physiological measurement; and physiological modelling.

Transformative sensors

Developments in optical technologies mean that some sensors are no larger than a hair and in the words of Professor Kyriacou, can "go into places in the body that people have never gone before." The startling potential of ever-smarter and smaller sensors created by the Group includes non-invasive monitoring of blood oxygen levels in specific organs and tissues to ascertain their condition and tracking the progress of critically ill patients during surgery and in intensive care. This research challenges the status quo in monitoring blood components such as glucose, haemoglobin and cholesterol by innovating new non- invasive sensors that have the potential to make such measurements possible, without the invasive extraction of blood. Such technologies will enable patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes to monitor their wellbeing and remain in control of their condition.

BERG has recently been awarded a major research grant by the National Institute of Health Research to develop a personal lithium blood analyser for patients with bipolar disorder. This will revolutionise the monitoring of psychiatric disorders given that there is currently an absence of non-invasive medical devices for monitoring or assessing bipolar disorder. The mood of patients with bipolar disorder frequently changes, featuring episodes of depression (with feelings of being lethargic and 'low') and mania (with feelings of being 'high' and overactive). These patients are dependent on lithium to maintain their mental equilibrium. Too much lithium causes toxicity and too little causes patients to have uncontrollable mood swings.

The personal lithium blood analyser will assist in providing more information on lithium blood levels to psychiatrists, clinicians and patients, allowing for more effective management of bipolar disorder with lithium therapy. A low cost, portable healthcare technology which makes use of smart medical sensors allows bipolar patients to have more control of the earliest signs of health problems with medications that can be detected and corrected.

Preliminary studies will involve the spectrophotometric evaluation of lithium in blood to determine the optimum parameters for the sensor. The ultimate goal is to provide a handheld technology to monitor lithium levels non-invasively at home and to provide a personal monitor to assist, support and inform both the patient and clinician.

Funding future breakthroughs

While members of BeRG are revolutionising the care of patients in critical condition, colleagues elsewhere in the School of Mathematics, Computer Science & Engineering, led by its Dean, are set to transform the life opportunities of babies born with congenital heart disease.