Matters of the heart: the med-tech innovations three generations in the making

dr. Faezeh Marzbanrad recalls how her mother worked long hours to meet the growing demand for healthcare in her hometown of Shiraz, Iran.

People flocked from surrounding regions to access the high-quality care provided by the popular doctor.

Helping others was the family stock; When local medical specialists were unable to solve a patient’s problem, Faezah’s father, Bijan, an engineer, turned to them for help.

“My father would find technical solutions and build equipment that doctors needed,” says Dr. Marzbanrad. “That’s why I decided to become an engineer.

“The idea and the opportunity to do something that could help people really appealed to me.”

Faezeh Marzbanrad found that her research interest expanded into technologies that support not only the health of a developing baby, but also the health of mothers.

Engineering is clearly in Dr. Marzbanrad’s blood, but so is the fundamental belief that life-saving medical technology should be affordable and accessible to everyone, regardless of whether someone lives in a developing country, a remote area or a crowded city. †

Inspired by her visionary parents, Dr. Marzbanrad completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering at Shiraz University, Iran, and then took a doctoral research fellowship in Melbourne, where she focused on developing new fetal heart monitoring techniques, as well as automated diagnosis of congenital heart defects.

Read more: Pregnancy monitoring from home – a device being trialled worldwide

Today, she is at the forefront of developing technology and med-tech devices that can save the lives of our most vulnerable babies and children and reduce healthcare costs.

Her achievements were recently recognized with the Women Leading Tech Award 2022 in the education research category.

Matters of the heart

Inspired by the need for innovative healthcare in global communities, Dr. Marzbanrad explore ways to make existing fetal heart monitoring technology intuitive and affordable enough for use by obstetricians and physicians in rural and remote areas in every corner of the world.

To do this, she took an existing wearable ultrasound that monitors the baby’s heart sound, and added a new AI capability that automatically estimates the fetus’s heart rate and development and relays it for remote assessment.

In partnership with Emory University and Georgia Tech in the US, and Wuqu’ Kawoq – Maya Health Alliance in rural Guatemala, Dr. Marzbanrad is now testing the technology in remote communities and has a 2021 Veski Victoria Fellowship in support of this work.

“The magic is in the software,” she says. “We can now automatically and remotely assess the baby’s health and development based on the registered signals, and easily identify any health risks.

“With a little training, a traditional obstetrician or local doctor can easily provide this care at home in the community.”

Polite experience translated into tech

After the birth of her daughter, Dr. Marzbanrad found that her research interests expanded into technologies that support not only the health of the developing baby, but also the health of mothers – based largely on her own experience as a new mother.

She vividly remembers the turning point when she visited her midwife during her pregnancy and felt unwell.

Faezeh Marzbanrad and her daughter.

“The first thing the doctor asked was, ‘How much is the baby moving?’ I could only guess because I hadn’t had time to keep track of everything, and this was stressful and worrying as a mom-to-be.

“As an engineer I thought, ‘Why don’t we have a device that can measure a baby’s kicks and take the burden off women to do it all themselves?'”

Fast forward, and Dr. Marzbanrad is now part of a multidisciplinary research team of engineers and midwives developing exactly this type of device. In 2020, the team was awarded a $1 million National Health and Medical Research Council Ideas grant.

She hopes the device will reduce stillbirths by revolutionizing the way fetal movement is evaluated.

The soft, low-cost smart patch the team is developing can automatically detect and report fetal movements anytime, anywhere, using advanced electronic skin detection technologies and AI.

“I am the only researcher on the team who has actually been pregnant!” Dr Marzbanrad says.

“In my experience, we have the right understanding of how to feel the movements automatically and how to ensure the best user experience with the device. We hope that this device will significantly reduce the incidence of stillbirths in the future.”

dr. Marzbanrad has also developed a measuring device that can accurately measure a baby’s breast milk intake.

“My baby wasn’t gaining enough weight and there were concerns about her feeding, which was also a stressful thing to deal with,” she says.

So she went back to the drawing board again to develop a device idea.

Her solution is to place a small device on a baby’s neck during feeding, which applies an AI algorithm to sensor data that can automatically measure milk intake.

The device, which is still under development, aims to be safe, unobtrusive, and has the potential to significantly improve care for sick or premature infants transitioning from tube feeding to breast or bottle feeding.

Initiatives such as International Women in technology day on June 23, highlights the critical contributions that women like Dr. Marzbanrad contribute to technical research and practice, but their numbers remain stubbornly low in Australia.

Engineering for Australia Task Forceis recent report on women’s participation in technical education, engineering has not achieved the gender equality achieved in other sectors, with women making up only 12% of the Australian engineering workforce and 16% of students enrolling in engineering courses at our universities.

“I want to use my skills as an engineer to design solutions to problems that matter to women,” says Dr. Marzbanrad.

“This has not necessarily been the case in the past, but the more women we can encourage to become engineers, the more our solutions are more aligned with our own needs.”

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