Student team helps UNMC researcher get real-time analysis of data
Using an input from a Doppler ultrasound machine, a team of University of Nebraska-Lincoln electrical and computer engineering students is designing a device that could help doctors detect cardiovascular problems in patients.
The students – Michael Lehman, Patrick Davlin, Mai Zakaria Ahmad Morgan and Nicholas Masur – developed a device that would graph blood pressure and blood pressure flow and be less invasive than other devices being used by Peter Pellegrino, a medical resident and cardiovascular researcher at University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Pellegrino is hoping to use what is known as a Sympathetic Vasomotion Observation System to gain better insight into the human sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight-or-flight response to an environment.
"He can't do research on humans right now because the process is so invasive," Lehman said. "So he has to do research on rabbits and rats, and he puts this medical device into the veins or artery of the animal. If he can use the ultrasound, it would allow study on human subjects."
The biggest goal of the project, Lehman said, was for the device to rapidly collect and display the data so that it could be analyzed immediately. This would allow Pellegrino to better understand how the sympathetic nervous system of a patient is reacting.
"What he wanted was for us to do all this in real time," Lehman said. "We gave him a goal of 30 seconds for processing and analysis. Right now, he has to take the data and go back to a computer and run the data after the fact. If we can get ours within 30 seconds, he can see the results in real time and see the base emotion or constriction of the arteries."
Lehman said the process of designing the device has gone fairly smoothly, but "we've had to make some kind of last-second adjustments."
"Originally, we were going to do it all on an imbedded system, like a microcontroller," Lehman said. "Since we're taking data in and pushing data out in near real time, there's not a good way to do that with microcontrollers. We would have had to buy the most expensive microcontroller and barely have room for it."
This led the team to design a device that would use a microcontroller to collect the data and then Bluetooth technology to transmit it to a desktop computer to do the processing.
To accomplish this, the team had to quickly define roles. Lehman was in charge of resources management, Zakaria Ahmad Morgan the hardware, Davlin the software and Masur became the systems engineer. Though they had their assigned roles, Lehman said, much of the work was a collaboration.
"In the first semester, we had to decide who was going to be working on what," Lehman said. "We haven't all worked only on what we said we would. We made some changes and adjustments. It's all about who has the experience or skill-sets or classwork experience to do this or that.
"We're learning that the engineering process is as much about communication as it is about doing the technical work," Lehman said. "This particular project might not translate well into what I want to do for a career, but the problem-solving, communication and critical-thinking skills will be important."
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