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Sources: Kejia Li, kejiali@k-state.edu;
and Steve Warren, 785-532-4644, swarren@k-state.edu
Pronouncer: Kejia is Kay-gee-ah and Li is Lee
Website: http://www.cimit.org
Photo available. Download at http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/feb11/222cimit.jpg
News release prepared by: Beth Bohn, 785-532-2535, bbohn@k-state.edu

Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

DOCTORAL STUDENT'S PROPOSAL COULD IMPROVE HEALTH CARE AND WIN $150,000

MANHATTAN -- What if you could allow your doctor just-in-time monitoring of your life-threatening medical condition by simply carrying around a device the size of a pack of gum?

That idea and the prototype for such a device could win a Kansas State University graduate student $150,000 in the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology's 2011 Student Prize for Primary Health Care competition.

K-State's Kejia Li, doctoral student in electrical engineering from Hangzhou, China, has been selected as one of 10 finalists in the competition, which challenges engineering students to come up with innovative technology to support and improve the delivery of health care. As a finalist Li and his team received $10,000 to develop a final proposal for his project, "Everyday Carry Wireless Health Monitor with Customizable Surface Components."

The winning proposal receives $150,000, with $100,000 for second and $50,000 for third. The funding is intended to help the students commercialize their prototypes.

This year's competition received initial applications from more than 33 engineering programs nationwide. As a finalist, K-State's Li will be competing against teams from such noted schools as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, University of California at Berkeley, Boston University, Northeastern University and Texas A&M University.

Li's proposal is for a small, handheld or wearable multi-sensor medical monitoring device, which he has nicknamed GumPack for its size. The device will have the processing capabilities of a computer and the wireless communication and networking functions to send health data via the Internet. The device also will host multiple biomedical sensors that can be easily reconfigured based on patient need.

"This device could increase the quality of care for individuals who desire mobility yet require frequent or continuous health monitoring," Li said. "Sensor-laden devices that offer the connectivity of a cell phone and are small enough to attach to a keychain or be carried in a purse like lipstick or an inhaler are especially attractive, as such items are common, inconspicuous and would minimize the distraction of daily medical monitoring."

The battery-operated device will initially have a rectangular cuboid shape with up to four snap-in surface components, such as a reflectance pulse oximeter sensor, a two-thumb electrocardiograph, a sensor conditioning board and an expansion board or a local wireless network coordinator. It also would have a camera and microphone. The GumPack's Wi-Fi capabilities would allow it to connect to a medical information system at a hospital or doctor's office.

GumPack's computer-grade processing capability will make it special compared to today's wearable medical devices since it will be able to process its signals locally, Li said. This reduces the time needed to transmit data wirelessly, saving the device's battery power. GumPack's computing power also shows its potential as an intelligent device that may one day assist with patient care decisions, he said.

Li developed his proposal with the help of his faculty adviser, Steve Warren, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of K-State's Medical Component Design Laboratory. The GumPack concept was sparked by earlier research at the lab on the design of wireless reflectance pulse oximeters, which use light-based sensors to detect heart rate and blood oxygen saturation.

To finalize his proposal Li and Warren will collaborate with the K-State Electronics Design Laboratory for board layout and fabrication. The two labs are already collaborating on several development projects supported by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the National Institutes of Health.

Final proposals must be submitted by May 31, with winners announced June 30. The Kansas State University Research Foundation filed a patent application on this work in January.

Li, who earned a master's in electrical engineering from K-State in May 2010, plans to finish his doctoral work in 2012. He would like to work in the U.S. for a year or two before returning to China.

"Kejia's selection as a finalist is an example of how the department of electrical and computer engineering and the College of Engineering provide scholarly experiences that make our graduate students competitive in today's world and are part of our goal to help make the university a top 50 public research institution by 2025," Warren said.

The Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology's Student Prize for Primary Health Care is supported by a gift from the Gelfand Family Charitable Trust. The center is a nonprofit consortium of Boston's leading teaching hospitals and universities. It fosters interdisciplinary collaboration in translational research, medicine, science and engineering, and with industry, foundations and government, to rapidly improve patient care.