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Interdisciplinary program fosters student innovation in newborn survival interventions

Bangladesh-based research team will investigate how to bring new technologies to community-based programs 

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Associate Professor Alain Labrique from the Department’s Global Disease Epidemiology and Control program is leading a team of faculty from the Schools of Public Health, Medicine and Engineering in a new student mentoring program based in Bangladesh. One of three Global Established Multidisciplinary Sites (GEMS), this program was funded by the Center for Global Health as part of the University’s Global Signature Initiative. Faculty from three University Centers—the JHU Global mHealth Initiative (JHU-GmI), the Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design (CBID) and the International Center for Maternal & Newborn Health (ICMNH)—are helping to spearhead this project. The Initiative encourages collaboration across the University and helps bring together students and faculty from different disciplines to address challenges in neonatal survival. The Bangladesh-based research team will leverage its wide range of expertise to develop and test ways diagnostic sensors can be paired with mobile phones in the hands of community health workers to provide useful physiologic information about the health of vulnerable newborns, in a timely way.  

Neha Goel
Neha Goel (center), an advisee of Labrique’s and a GEMS team member, at Dhaka Shishu Hospital with two nurses who are helping researchers assess which technologies can feasibly be introduced in clinical settings.
 

Immersion to drive innovation

The JiVitA Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition Research Center, a long-standing Johns Hopkins research site well-known for its innovations, is hosting the project, together with leading Bangladeshi neonatologists, such as Professor Monir Hossain at Dhaka Shishu (Children) Hospital.  As a first step, students are engaging local technology firms and public health organizations to find out what types of sensors are available and affordable. They’re also accompanying community health workers to map opportunities and understand the local context, and to test how prototype technology works in the field where they might encounter challenges such as heat, dust, and lack of power to charge devices.

More Insight, Sooner

As the research of faculty such as Professor Abdullah Baqui has shown, community-based management of newborns can save millions of newborn lives. The team hopes to improve the effectiveness of this type of treatment by providing community health workers with improved information to identify high-risk newborns early in their illness and to begin care sooner. Sensors linked to mobile phones could help collect data that are now difficult to collect, such as pulse oximetry and respiratory rate, and could provide more accurate information about symptoms such as respiratory irregularities that are very hard to measure. Novel physiologic metrics like heart rate variability might even prove to be useful. Data could be transmitted to centrally located providers for a diagnosis, or the team could develop algorithms to guide the course of treatment. Such innovations could both reduce unnecessary treatments and initiate treatment well before more serious symptoms develop. Once tools are developed, the team will seek funding to test feasibility and predictive accuracy in real-world settings.

Bangladesh GEMS Research Team

Faculty

Dr. S. Acharya, Whiting School of Engineering       

Dr. A. Farzin, School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health

Dr. A. B. Labrique, Bloomberg School of Public Health 

Dr. Y. Yazdi, Whiting School of Engineering

Students

Ahmed Abdelbasit, Bloomberg School of Public Health

Wes Bernier, Whiting School of Engineering

Neha Goel, School of Medicine and 

Bloomberg School of Public Health

Naveed Pasha, School of Medicine

Allie Sibole, Whiting School of Engineering

Emerson Song, Bloomberg School of Public Health

Melody Tan, Whiting School of Engineering

Jackie Wanjala, Whiting School of Engineering