Dr Faezah Marzbanrad
Faezah builds affordable and reliable healthcare technologies that save lives and reduce health care costs.
Lifesaving medical technology should be affordable and accessible to all, regardless of whether a person lives in a developing country, a remote area or an overcrowded city, believes Dr Faezeh Marzbanrad from the Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering and head of the Biomedical Signal Processing Research Lab, a lab focused on using biomedical signal processing, machine learning and statistical data analysis in order to design affordable and reliable healthcare technologies that save lives and reduce health care costs.
It’s a core value she developed as a child while observing her mother, a medical specialist, working long hours to meet the overwhelming demand for healthcare in their hometown of Shiraz, Iran, where people would flock from the surrounding regions to access the high quality medical care on offer. Her father, an electrical engineer, would develop technology for telemetry, remote control, automaton and intelligent industrial systems, all applicable to tele-medicine and potentially would solve healthcare problems many doctors such as Fae’s mother were facing. “That’s why I decided to become an engineer,” said Fae. “The mindset and the opportunity to do something novel and innovative that could help people was very appealing to me.”
On receiving postgraduate research scholarships to study in Australia, Fae focused her research on developing new non-invasive foetal heart monitoring techniques, as well as automated diagnosis of congenital heart diseases. She then began conducting research into making foetal heart monitoring technology simple and affordable enough to be used by midwives and doctors in developing countries. To do so, she added AI capability to an existing hand-held ultrasound device in order to monitor foetal heart rate, assess foetal development and detect intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR).
In collaboration with Emory University, Georgia Tech and Wuqu’ Kawoq - Maya Health Alliance, the device is currently being tested in remote Guatemalan communities. As the device automatically records Doppler ultrasound signals when placed on the mother’s abdomen, it can be easily used by traditional midwives, many of whom have little formal education. “The magic is in the software,” Fae said. “It allows us to automatically and remotely assess foetal physiological health and development from the recorded signals. We can then easily identify any health risks that may not have been detected, and without the expectant mother having to travel long distances unnecessarily.”
“The magic is in the software, It allows us to automatically and remotely assess foetal physiological health and development from the recorded signals. We can then easily identify any health risks that may not have been detected, and without the expectant mother having to travel long distances unnecessarily.”
Lived experience translated into practice
Fae’s own pregnancy experience even further focused her research interests onto devices and solutions that can help support not only the developing baby’s health, but maternal mental health. “I wanted to use my skills as an engineer to design solutions to problems that matter to women, which hasn’t necessarily been the case in the past,” said Fae. “For example, I consulted my doctor when I was feeling very unwell while pregnant, and the first thing she asked was how much my baby had been moving recently. I could only guess, because I hadn’t kept track carefully and I wondered, ‘Why don’t we have a simple device that can accurately measure these kicks, and take the burden off women to do it all themselves?’”
Fae is now working in a research team with other Monash engineers and obstetricians to develop exactly this type of device, which was recently awarded a $1 million National Health and Medical Research Council Ideas grant. The device aims to reduce stillbirths by revolutionising the way fetal movements are evaluated through the development of a compact, soft, inexpensive, smart patch, which can automatically detect and report fetal movements anytime anywhere, taking advantage of advanced electronic skin sensing technologies and AI. “I’m the only researcher on the team who’s been pregnant,” she said. “Being able to offer that lived experience to the research has been invaluable, and we hope that this device significantly reduces the chances of stillbirths in the future.”
“I wanted to use my skills as an engineer to design solutions to problems that matter to women”
Designing new technology to solve problems
Concern about her newborn daughter’s milk intake and growth was the catalyst for Fae’s next research project into a monitoring device that can accurately detect the amount of milk babies are drinking per feed. “My baby wasn’t putting on enough weight, which was a stressful and difficult experience as an overwhelmed new mum,” she said. “I also found that this was a common experience for other women in my mother’s group. So, I told them I would develop a device to solve this problem, and many mums I know are now waiting for it and willing to pay for it!”
Fae has begun work on the device, which will involve placing a very small sensor set on the baby’s neck while feeding, recording signals, then applying an AI algorithm which can automatically measure the milk intake. The device is designed to be safe for use on babies, and will likely be an important tool in assisting pre-term or low birth weight babies to gain weight, while providing accurate information and peace of mind to parents and carers.
Fae’s research brings strengths in biomedical signal processing and biomedical software to the wider Department of Electrical and Computer System Engineering, which has offered a supportive and exciting space for Fae to conduct her research. “It’s been a wonderful place to start my career, I’ve had access to everything I need in terms of lab space and research grants, but most importantly, I’ve received a lot of mentorship,” she said. “It’s also been great working in a relatively young department with many early career researchers like myself.”
Fae is also the department representative on the Engineering faculty’s Equity and Diversity Committee and has been involved in the IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) committees. She’d like to encourage female electrical and computer systems engineering students to get involved with committees such as the IEEE or student team FEM. “We need to support each other as women in engineering, and I’ve been lucky to receive plenty of mentorship which has made a big difference to my career,” Fae said. “I’m looking forward to paying it forward by mentoring female engineering students to become leaders in technology development in the future.“
Visit the Biomedical Signal Processing Lab to learn more about Fae’s research