LET ME HEAR YOUR BODY TALK: UH SCIENTISTS
MINE BIOMEDICAL DATA
$900K National Science Foundation Grant Fosters Collaborations
in Computer Science, Medicine
HOUSTON, March 15, 2006 – Five University of Houston researchers
are teaching computers how to listen when your body talks.
Thanks to a $900,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that
addresses the needs of the increasing complexity of collecting and
analyzing biomedical data, this quintet of UH computer scientists
can now more easily tackle this mining of health information from
patients in real-time as a team.
With a primary focus of merging non-invasive imaging technologies
with computational resources, the grant seeks to extend knowledge
of how humans learn, study brain function and behavior, detect cognitive
impairment, provide continuous non-invasive monitoring of human
physiology, analyze facial expressions and the underlying cognitive
state, and improve biometrics-based security.
“The project will involve a hybrid software system designed
to acquire, analyze, integrate, securely store and visualize large
volumes of data obtained from a human subject in real time,”
said George Zouridakis, principal investigator on the NSF grant.
An associate professor of computer science and director of the
Biomedical Imaging Lab at UH, Zouridakis is joined on the project
by Professor Marc Garbey, who is also the chair of the computer
science department, Associate Professors Ioannis Kakadiaris and
Ioannis Pavlidis, and Assistant Professor Ricardo Vilalta. The grant
relies on this team of computer scientists to combine the best existing
tools and practices of information technology and to develop software
tools specific to the common needs of real-world applications in
Titled “Acquisition of a Hybrid System and Research Infrastructure
for Large-Scale Integration of Biomedical Data,” the grant
is the largest instrumentation grant ever awarded to UH by the NSF.
The preliminary results of this grant were obtained as a result
of work done on a highly competitive grant funded by Microsoft on
“Computational Data Grids for Scientific and Biomedical Applications.”
With each scientist having a different area of expertise and a
separate laboratory specializing in different structural and functional
imaging modalities, the grant seeks to unify these labs, extending
the range of technologies and adding computation and visualization
resources. Zouridakis’ research, for instance, involves dense-array
scanners to capture and analyze the electrical, magnetic and infrared
aspects of brain activity in an effort to understand brain function
and behavior, detect cognitive impairment and disease states, model
human learning and develop adaptive training protocols.
As author of several new families of algorithms for distributed
computing published in main international journals of the field,
Garbey’s focus is in computational life sciences and high-performance
computing. With expertise in tissue remodeling, applications of
his research involve vein graft failure and neurovascular diseases.
Examining the human form and function at the micro and macro levels,
Kakadiaris founded and directs the Computational Biomedicine Lab
whose members are pioneering research in the areas of cardiovascular
informatics and multispectral biometrics. For example, this group
has developed technology with the potential to alert physicians
to heart attack risk by enabling them to detect regions of blood
vessels prone to future rupture and sudden blockage. Early detection
is essential in the practice of cardiology to reduce the number
of fatalities occurring annually due to unpredicted heart attacks
and strokes. In biometrics, the group has developed a radical new
approach by combining information from visible and infrared spectrum
cameras to obtain a unique biometric signature of a person’s
Pavlidis, director of the Computational Physiology Lab, has developed
an Automatic THErmal Monitoring System, or ATHEMOS, a system that
allows a computer to perform touchless physiological monitoring
of its human user’s health, including measurements of blood
flow, pulse and breathing rate to draw inferences about a variety
of symptoms on a continuous basis. This aims to add a new dimension
in human-computer interaction, aspiring to use the abundant computing
resources at home and the office in combination with novel sensing,
algorithmic and interface methods to enhance the user’s experience,
as well as create a new widespread preventive medicine paradigm
for computers to one day monitor the actual health of their users
during computer use.
Vilalta, whose research involves analyzing massive amounts of data
with the goal of extracting meaningful and informative patterns,
is co-director of the Data Mining and Machine Learning Group at
UH. The group has applications in planetary science and particle
physics, such as the automated analysis and characterization of
Martian topography. He will be applying this expertise in the analysis
of biomedical datasets stemming from multiple sensors.
The grant helps with the training of graduate and undergraduate
students working in the labs by encouraging their participation,
both as experimental subjects and as researchers. Data from test
subjects will be collected by state-of-the-art sensing systems that
already exist in the laboratories of the investigators or will be
acquired with support from this grant and will include thermal cameras,
3-D geometry video cameras and multimodality brain activity scanners.
This hybrid system will be capable of integrating MRI and CT scans,
as well as live neurophysiological data collected at remote collaborating
“This grant will facilitate the development of breakthrough
technology in the area of computational biomedicine,” said
John Bear, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
“And once the system is in place, it will be available to
the research community from both academia and industry.”
Once a year, a special three-day short course on computational
biomedicine applications will be organized by the scientists working
on the grant. The course mainly will be tailored to the doctoral
level and will be widely open to academics. The next course will
be held in the fall of 2006.
About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research
and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers
and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate,
civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university
in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and
service with more than 35,000 students.
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