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Highlights of the teaching going on in UCL Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering

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A breath of fresh air

Adam PGibson14 March 2018

By Rebecca Yerworth

How do you let steam out of you kitchen if the only window is behind the kitchen sink and, as an octogenarian you can no longer climb on the work-surface to reach the handle? We gave our second year biomedical engineers one week to find a solution.

At first it seemed trivial – just put a hook on a stick… but then they met the 87-year old client and realised that wielding anything much heavier than a cup of tea was going to be a problem, and she would like to be able to store the aid on the kitchen work surface.  … and don’t forget the screw on the bottom bracket which is needed to stop the open window flapping about in the breeze.

By Friday afternoon all the student teams had a device which they could use to open the window, and were waiting in trepidation for the client to test them out.  “Bit heavy”, “nicely finished”, “easy to use”, were some of the comments heard. Different solutions were found to the issue of weight, from using intrinsically light bamboo to strategically shaping wooden planks to reduce their weight, to not using a pole at all – just use pulleys. Seven different ideas from seven teams.

Window Opener being tested

Window Opener being tested

During the week students put into practice skills they had learnt in other modules – included user-centered design, and the practical implications of material choice. They also learnt new skills as they made good use of the tools in the biomedical engineering teaching laboratory and in UCL’s MakeSpace.

This project is inspired by the work of REMAP, a national charity specialising in custom making aids for elderly and disabled people, where no suitable aid is commercially available. UCL staff and students have recently set up a REMAP-affiliated group Impactive. Volunteers from both organisations gave an inspiring talk to the students at the beginning of the week, and it sounds like they have gained some new volunteers: Biomedical Engineering students putting their skills to good use even before they graduate – well done and keep it up.

Investigating neurovascular coupling in infants with seizures using EEG and DOT

Adam PGibson19 October 2017

By Aman Ganglani

Over the summer I was lucky enough to undertake an eight-week research project in the Biomedical Optics Research Lab (BORL) with the research group focusing on diffuse optical tomography.

Using data acquired from simultaneous electroencephalography (EEG) and diffuse optical tomography (DOT) measurements from the NTS system (developed by Gowerlabs), we looked at the relationship between cerebral blood flow and seizures in neonatal infants with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).  This work follows a previous investigation by the group titled ‘Mapping cortical haemodynamics during neonatal seizures using diffuse optical tomography: A case study’ [1]. The data analysed in this study is from the same patient as the previous investigation.

Figure 1 - The GowerLabs NTS system

Figure 1 – The GowerLabs NTS system

Most of my work was done in Matlab. By employing various statistical tests and by creating my own scripts with the help of the department I further understood the relationship between neonatal seizures and cerebral haemodynamics. Through my own investigation and discussions with the DOT team in formal weekly meetings, I was able uncover patterns and identify further research topics.

A lot of my work was concentrated on the relationship between oxy/deoxy haemoglobin (HbO and HbR respectively) and the spikes on the EEG which indicated seizure like activity. I was able to demonstrate the HbO signal leading the EEG signal through cross correlation tests and visual inspection. I was also able to show evidence of the ‘initial dip’ phenomenon and understood why it remains to be controversial given how it was not seen in every seizure (the ‘initial dip’ phenomenon is observed when there is a dip in HbO prior to a seizure). We also found other time correlations with HbR which warrants further investigation. I ran various other statistical tests such as t-tests to validate my results. Along with this, I also looked at the derivative to investigate if a sudden change in the EEG correlates to a sudden change in haemoglobin levels. Given how I previously found a time lag between the haemoglobin signals and the EEG signal, it came as no surprise that there was no direct correlation without a time lag. I also identified further research topics such as investigating the phase difference between the HbR and HbO signal along with further statistical tests that could be employed on more datasets. All of my code was commented on to specifically allow for other people to continue my work.

Along with the analysis work I was also able to visit the Evelyn Perinatal Imaging Centre at Rosie hospital in Cambridge. This was where the patients were scanned with EEG and DOT, and I could see how the devices built in the university were tailored to a hospital environment. By then attending meetings with neoLAB. I understood some of the challenges faced by engineers to connect their products with hospital staff. I was also able to do some brief work on image reconstruction which gave me an exciting scope to the future of DOT imaging.

I would like to thank the Engineering department for this amazing opportunity to be a part of this phenomenal project. Everyone at BORL has been incredibly friendly and approachable. A special thanks to Ms Dempsey, Dr Cooper and Dr Hebden for their never-ending support. This opportunity has given me a fantastic insight into the world of research and I look forward to being a part of it.

Figure 2 - Laura Dempsey and me with the NTS kit.

Figure 2 – Laura Dempsey and me with the NTS kit.

[1] H.Singh, R.Cooper, C.Lee, L.Dempsey, A.Edwards, S.Brigadoi, D.Airantzis, N.Everdell, A.Michell, D.Holder, J.Hebden, T.Austin. (2014). Mapping cortical haemodynamics during neonatal seizures using diffuse optical tomography: A case study. NeuroImage: Clinical. 5

Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy Conference

Adam PGibson27 September 2017

By Nick Wood, MEng student

I was luckily able to attend the fNIRS UK conference free of charge on the 7/09/17.

For those of you who are not familiar with fNIRS, functional near infrared spectroscopy and its subgroup DOT, diffuse optical tomography, are exciting brain imaging technologies. They provide functional imaging by measuring the haemodynamic response associated with neuron activity and can be safely used at a patient’s bed side.

The proceedings opened with the first keynote speech delivered by our own head of department Jem Hebden, this interesting talk explained the some of the key differences between fNIRS and DOT and several of the challenges and benefits of designing DOT systems. The long history of the development of this technology at UCL was also explained.

Jem Hebden describing optical brain imaging

Jem Hebden describing optical brain imaging

 

Eight other talks followed illustrating the wide-ranging capabilities of this technology; varying from using to evaluate human computer interfaces, developing an optical biomarker of brain mitochondrial function and assessing the plasticity in the neural representation of language.

I found the second keynote talk of the day by Mr Daniel Leff particular interesting, the talk covered how fNIRS could be used to not only monitor the patient but could also be used to track the surgeon. By monitoring surgeons, the neurological differences between trainee, registrar and consultant surgeons could be spotted when undertaking different tasks, as true mastery of a skill was obtained the mental exertion required to perform this task was greatly produced. This could therefore be used as an assessment for consultant status, allowing a move away from the traditional training system of becoming a consultant after a certain amount of years of training. Ensuring people only reach the pinnacle medical role once they have truly mastered their surgical skills.

The conference closed with a humorous interactive session on the attendee’s thoughts for the future of the technology and possible talking points for the 2018 Tokyo meeting.

Key topics in fNIRS for the next few years

Key topics in fNIRS for the next few years

Overall, I had an interesting day learning about additional uses and developments of fNIRS/DOT and would like to say a thank you to all the speakers, sponsors and the programme/organisation committees for making the conference possible and free of charge.

A closer look into Mummies and Phantoms!

Adam PGibson5 May 2017

By Bindia Venugopal

xrf1In this x-ray fluorescence imaging research project, we imaged and analysed both mummy cartonnage and phantoms using a portable handheld x-ray fluorescence (pXRF) machine, borrowed from the Institute of Archaeology at UCL.  as part of a Deep Imaging project funded by the Arcadia Fund. It was important to characterise the pXRF to suit the application. We found that the pXRF settings in ‘SOIL mode’ reflected our application the best. The pXRF can detect the elemental composition (to parts per million) in the region of interest.

When we imaged cartonnage lent by the Petrie Museum, we found that the blue pigments were made up predominantly of the element Copper (Cu) at ~15,200ppm (1.52%). By investigating the types of pigments used by Ancient Egyptians, we could see that this blue colour most likely originated either from Azurite or Egyptian Blue which have a chemical composition of Copper(II) Carbonate and Calcium Copper(II) Silicate respectively. Similarly, the red pigments were found to be made up of 19,700ppm (1.97%) of Iron (Fe). This suggested the pigment was either Haematite or Umber.

Test phantoms are a great tool to compare the effects of different imaging techniques. For this project, we used four existing test phantoms that were created with known properties by team member Kathryn Piquette – in this case the composition and placement of inks were predetermined. The pigments were iron oxide ink; iron gall ink; carbon ink; and Indian ink. The phantoms were imaged with the pXRF to identify and validate the presence of these inks. During the testing phase, we found that the pXRF could detect Fe in the iron oxide and iron gall, but failed to detect the element carbon in the carbon ink and the Indian ink. This is because the carbon was out of the detection range of the pXRF system. Therefore, any carbon in mummy cartonnage will need to be identified by different methods of imaging.

xrf2By imaging the phantoms, we could quantify the concentration of the pigments with respect to the thickness of the sample. Since the placement of the inks varied across the four quadrants of the phantom, it meant that we observed a reduction in concentration for the iron oxide and iron gall phantoms as the number of layers of papyrus above the ink increased. Additional tests with further layers of modern papyrus above the phantom resulted in a conclusion that it took approximately 9 layers of modern papyrus above the ink before which the pXRF could no longer confidently detect the concentration of Fe.

Using the pXRF as an imaging modality could prove useful in many cultural heritage studies due to its portability and non-invasive nature. However, efforts must be made to further calibrate the system so that it can be used specifically for such an application. Moreover, since the pXRF is currently a qualitative technique, in the future, we should look to achieve quantifiable results by devising the optimum methodology for pXRF imaging in cultural heritage.

How to make the assessment of group work better?

Adam PGibson5 April 2017

by Lucia Albelda Gimeno and Isobel Chester

The Individual Peer Assessed Contribution (IPAC) Consortium aims to develop a tool for the fair and effective peer assessment of individual contribution in student group work. This Consortium was started by Pilar Garcia Souto after the UCL Teaching and Learning conference 2016, and the initiative has attracted members of staff from 20 different departments.  Initially we were drawn to the project as it would provide us with invaluable experience of working with both students and professors in our and other departments, and has the capability of influencing a large number of students. For us, we could contribute to an academic research project which would provide us with knowledge of organising focus groups and collecting data to analyse in an advantageous way. Also the ability to impact the department, and quality of education at UCL, during our time here is appealing. During our studies, we have had negative experiences in group work and were drawn to the possibility of expressing our problems and been part of the process of solving them; this in turn would provide with a level of understanding of how academic institutions are run.

Personally, we feel like we will contribute primarily by gathering information. We believe if we speak to a large number of students, their view and comments may be more honest speaking to another student rather than a member of staff – increasing the reliability of the data collected. From our own experience, we found that during group work people did not contribute evenly, but due to small class sizes we could not raise the issue in a fair way. If the complaint was addressed, a problem arose of our lecturers not knowing how to deal with this which seemed unfair. Therefore, we would like to be part of the system to change this. Also we can recommend the level of advice the student’s will require to assess appropriately.

Since we started, we obtained a Change Makers project in which we are working along another 4 students from EEE, as well as Dr Ryan Grammenos, Mira Vogel and Pilar Garcia Souto. We have also co-authored a presentation at the UCLU Education Conference 2017 and reviewed one possible system (Teammates). Finally (so far) we have run two focus groups with over 27 students in total and free pizzas.

It is evident the main benefit of our contribution to the IPAC Consortium is to obtain students’ perspectives on the preferred and fair method of assessing group work, as well as their views on different platforms aiming to identify one that has a friendly interface and that students find easy to use. The outcomes of this project will inform the IPAC Consortium and their recommendations, will have a direct impact on student motivation as they are aware their individual effort is assessed. In turn, this will benefit us, our department and UCL as a whole.

You can find more details of the project and the IPAC Consortium in the wiki!

How do you demonstrate gamma imaging practically to students, without a radiation hazard?

Adam PGibson10 January 2017

By Rebecca Yerworth

This was the challenge set to 3rd year project student Nicola Wolf. The outcome? Gamma Anna, and a paper in Physics Education. The interactive demonstration that Nicola developed is applicable to medical students, secondary school lessons, and younger children when used with an appropriate age specific work sheet.

What is Gamma Imaging? It is a medical diagnostic technique which involves injecting small amount of radioactive material (tracer) in to a patient and looking to see where it goes using a radiation detector, known as a gamma camera.  The tracer is designed to be selectively absorbed into tissues of interest – e.g. radioactive glucose will accumulate in those parts of the body that are using the most energy…. Tumours have a high energy demand, so they will show up bright in the image. This is a useful tool for doctors if they want to see if a cancer has spread.

Why produce a teaching demo? It is common knowledge that well designed interactive activities increase understanding of the subject and retention of knowledge, as well as student engagement and enjoyment. However you can’t safely demonstrate real gamma imaging to students, because of the radiation hazard, quite apart from the logistics: Gamma cameras are large (room sized) and expensive. The Gamma Anna demo uses a series of analogies to explained key concepts of the imaging technique: heat, from an exothermic reaction represents the gamma radiation; tumours are represented by plaster of Paris; saline the radioactive tracer and a thermal imaging camera represents the Gamma camera. ‘Anna’ herself is a ragdoll into which the ‘tumours’ can be placed.gammaanna

Who is the demo for? Nicola tested the demo with GCSE grade students, where it served to explain principles of radiation and showed applications of physics to medicine and engineering – a topic with the potential to motivate students, including girls, to choose STEM subjects at A’ level and beyond. She also tested it with medical students, where the focus was on improving their ability to accurately advise future patients. Gamma Anna could also be used with younger children, either at an outreach event or as play-therapy if they, or a relative, need to undergo gamma imaging.  In each case age/course appropriate work sheets should be used; examples are available for download from the link above.

In conclusion… Gamma Anna is cheap, safe and easy to make and use. The largest expense being a thermal imaging camera, but mobile phone adapters are suitable, can be bought for less than £200, and are a useful resource for other demos too.

Thinking clinical at the Learning Hospital

Adam PGibson3 December 2016

By Julian Henty

Clinical Engineering knowledge and skills were put to the test recently during a visit to UCLH’s Learning Hospital. Second year Biomedical Engineering students were given the chance to test various medical devices, such as ventilators, bedside monitors and suction machines, examine the workings of an in-house automated blood pressure machine, and observe vital signs measurement from a real ‘patient’ using a virtual bedside monitor.

Despite making good use of the department’s electronics lab for experimentation with transducers, software driven data acquisition, and aspects of electrical safety, the Clinical Engineering module fulfills its practical aims by providing a hands-on session with real hospital equipment and actual clinical measurements in a realistic clinical environment. The Learning Hospital has a ‘theatre’, complete with operating table and appropriate medical devices, and a ‘ward’ with two beds, nurses’ station and a medical gas supply.

The virtual non-invasive blood pressure (NIBP) device comprised a PC, control board and recycled components from a disassembled standard NIBP device. LabVIEW software measured the photoplethysmogram (PPG) amplitude distal to the cuff during inflation/deflation, which provided feedback to control the air pump and release valve. The software had an illustrative screen showing each step in the process of taking a real measurement. Safety aspects of NIBP measurement could also be demonstrated.

learninghospital

The patient waits anxiously for his results

The virtual bedside monitor displayed real-time graphs of the ECG, PPG, NIBP and chest movement while the ‘patient’ lay on a bed. LabVIEW software demonstrated how heart rate may be extracted from the ECG, PPG, or NIBP measurements, and respiratory rate from the ECG or chest movement. The software could also manipulate the ECG to demonstrate both noise and other lead measurements, and simulation of low amplitude due to pericardial/pleural effusion, pneumothorax, obesity or loss of viable myocardium.

 

With thanks to Dimitros Airantiz, Billy Dennis and Paul Burke

Peer assessment in group work

Adam PGibson13 May 2016

By Pilar Garcia Souto

UCL Engineering trains students to use engineering knowledge within extended group practical activities to better prepare them for their careers after graduation. However, despite the substantial educational benefits of getting students to work in teams, students express and experience concerns that significantly decrease the student satisfaction.

We decided to look deeper into this matter and organized student focus groups across the Engineering Faculty, and spoke with various members of staff that use and assess group work. The message is clear: an element of “individual contribution” is needed, possible set by peers and tutor moderated, which improves the group dynamics and penalize the “passengers”. Otherwise students frequently express dissatisfaction if all members of a team are given the same mark regardless of the individual effort.

The concept is simple. At the end of a group work students rate the contribution of each team member, and this is used by the tutor to generate an individual mark. This encourages self-reflection, increase student satisfaction and reduce student’s complaints. The only major drawback is that the peer assessment of individual contribution is mainly collected using pen and paper, hence very staff consuming, as current e-learning tools are inadequate. From our research, this tool should be online, anonymous, preferable within Moodle and flexible so staff can adapt it and ask or value different aspects (e.g. reliability, punctuality, contribution to ideas, etc.).

This is an ongoing project. We presented some results at the UCL Teaching and Learning conference in April 2016, which attracted a lot of interest. It is clear that individual contribution assessment is something that staff from across UCL want to implement, and yet we lack the appropriate system. We decided to take the lead on establishing a consortium with those interested, and seek for some funding to develop an appropriate system within Moodle that would allow us to efficiently incorporate this practice into our teaching. If you are interested on participating and/or hearing more of our results, please contact p.garciasouto@ucl.ac.uk.

Our thanks to ELDG 2015 who partially funded this project.

Pitching UCL Biomedical Engineering Inventions To A Panel Of Dragons

Adam PGibson11 April 2016

By Jenny Griffiths

We made an unusual homework demand on our second year Biomedical Engineers over the Christmas vacation: they had to watch TV.

The students were asked to use UCL’s subscription to Box of Broadcasts to watch episodes of BBC’s Dragon’s Den in order to prepare for their first week back when they would be asked to spend a few days applying knowledge and understanding of enterprise, ethics, and regulations to medical devices.

On the first day of term, groups of students were each given a UCL Biomedical Engineering invention and told that they were to present a written portfolio and give a pitch to a panel of expert ‘Dragons’ on Friday afternoon.  They then went off, made contact with the UCL inventors of the devices, and with the help of a Teaching Assistant with a background in Medical Device Innovation, researched:

  • the devices’ capabilities
  • the market for the invention
  • routes to that market
  • ethical implications and requirements
  • medical device regulations for the device

All this information – key to bringing an engineering concept from lab to public use –  needed to be at their fingertips for the Friday presentations.

The full assignment marks for the work were split between the presentation, a written group portfolio and individual contributions to the team. We also upped the competitive element by awarding a prize for the best pitch, judged entirely subjectively by the Dragons and unlinked to any summative assessment marks.

dragons den presentation

This year’s devices were an optical ultrasound transcatheter imaging system (Dr Adrien Desjardins), a percutaneous heart valve delivery system (Dr Gaetano Burriesci) and SenseWheel – a force sensing wheelchair wheel to measure biomechanics (Dr Catherine Holloway).

On Friday afternoon, each group had five minutes to present their device to a panel of experts consisting of:

  • an academic medical devices expert
  • a Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellow
  • an academic who has commercialised a medical device through a spin-out
  • an external marketing and communications expert with no expert medical device knowledge.

The presentations were held in the appropriately intimidating Executive Education Suite, where the panel sat in high backed chairs and asked probing questions after each presentation. The students responded professionally and gave excellent pitches, selling devices that they had not know about just five days before!

Our highly sought after prize of copies of Eric Ries’ ‘The Lean Start up’ and (chocolate) money was won by team SenseWheel.

dragons den prize

In future years we aim to encourage more external Dragons to take part and will link the prize giving to an industrial careers and networking event for the students. If you are an employer who would like to be a part of this fun and valuable event, the department would love to hear from you.

Living Aid – working with Remap

Adam PGibson15 March 2016

By Rebecca Yerworth

remap1During the last week of February the second year biomedical engineers were introduced to ‘Remap’, a national charity working through local groups of skilled volunteers to help disabled people achieve independence and a better quality of life, by designing and tailor making equipment for their individual needs. The week started with a fascinating talk by Remap volunteers, explaining the purpose of the charity, the range of projects they tackle and the life changing effect of these bespoke items.

The students were then tasked with designing an aid that will enable a client to fit and remove spectacles, which she is unable to do without help, due to restricted arm movement. Whilst Remap projects vary in complexity, this is typical of the issues they solve – giving back independence to disabled users, or enabling them to take up a hobby they could previously only dream of.remap2

By the end of the week the students had had two meetings with the ‘client’ (an actor well acquainted with the issues) and we had three prototype devices. Three completely different approaches were taken, all of which the students could operate… though some needed further refinement/customisation to be useable by the client.

remap3The project raised some interesting questions about the relative merits of 3D printing versus traditional DIY techniques and of passive versus active devices. It also highlighted the importance of identifying and taking into account the client’s needs and preferences.