This main motivation of this department is to make available the benefits of modern science and technology in healthcare to the deprived people globally, particularly in the Third World through indigenous research efforts. The research of this department stands on the work carried out by Professor Rabbani and his students in the department of Physics over the previous thirty years . Efforts are being made to extend existing research activities giving emphasis on application. Four items of research based on innovations of this group, which got international acclaim, are gaining momentum and are being pursued with vigour. These are described below.
1. Focused Impedance Method (FIM) for probing the human body
FIM is a low cost and easily manageable electrical method for probing the human body, having high potential in the diagnosis and detection of different diseases and disorders of the human body. Some of the research being carried out in the department are:
- Development of a single frequency FIM equipment by minimising errors, and to make it suitable for measurement on human patients in a clinical situation.
- Development of dual frequency FIM equipment. This will be useful for the department’s research into the detection of pneumonia and of certain cancers.
- Development of a special electrode set, to be worn on the hand by a mother, to measure the respiration rate of babies without perturbing the baby. Necessary computerised data acquisition and software to extract the respiration rate are also being developed.
- Development of a FIM system for detecting cancer of the cervix. A scientist in UK has aleady succeeded in this objective through a similar measurement at several frequencies. FIM is expected to localise the measuring area to a smaller region. Besides, studies will be done to see whether measurement at only two frequencies can give adequate sensitivity.
- Development of a microcontroller based instrumentation for automatic measurement of 4 electrode FIM.
- Some initial success has been achieved in developing a technique to measure the thickness of subcutaneous fat layer in the abdomen using FIM. It is expected that this technique can be taken to an application phase in the near future. Abdominal fat layer is a risk indicator of several diseases like diabetes, heart attack, etc.
- A feasibility study is being performed to assess if FIM can be used for characterisation of breast tumour; whether it is malignant or benign. The work is being carried out in a private hospital. If successful this may become an alternative to biopsy.
- Theoretical work is being done to analyse the 3D sensitivity distribution for different electrode configurations. One aim is to find out if deeper organs inside the body can be focused using different arrangement of the electrodes. A student from another public university is carrying out the work here, under the co-supervision of a teacher from the Physics department.
- As an extension of FIM, a Pigeon Hole Imaging (PHI) method is also being developed to give a coarse image, suitable to locate the position of an organ, or to follow organs moving inside the body.
Some funding has been received from the Ministry of Education and from the International Science Programme of Uppsala University, Sweden for furtherance of the work on FIM. The potentials of FIM have attracted scientists from other countries too. Research on FIM has been initiated or is being planned in universities in UK, Korea and Norway. Students working with this group at Dhaka earlier got admitted in those Universities to do post graduate research on FIM.
2. Distribution of F-Latency (DFL) as a new method in nerve conduction.
A peripheral nerve trunk consists of thousands of nerve fibres with different velocities, and for a proper diagnosis of nerve disorders the researchers throughout the world have been looking for ways to experimentally determine a distribution of conduction velocity (DCV) of the fibres. The only experimental method available earlier involved complex measurements and lacked accuracy, and was not suitable for a clinical setting. The new method of DFL, conceived and developed by the research group of this department, has made it possible to determine the DCV directly as an approximate mirror image of DFL. DFL is a simple experimental method that can be incorporated to existing equipment for electro-neurophysiological measurements. Therefore this innovation of this research group has opened up a new horizon in the study of nerve conduction. Researchers of this department have already been able to identify patterns in DFL that relate to neuropathy due to cervical and lumbo-sacral spondylosis. Using this pattern identification they are now carrying out research to determine the effectiveness of DFL as a diagnostic tool, particularly for detecting such neuropathy at an early stage. A non-profit organisation established by the teachers of this department and some ex-students of Physics earlier have been providing regular clinical service for measurement of nerve conduction in the country for about 24 years using equipment made by themselves. The real life data obtained through these measurements have helped the research of this department, and again new method DFL, developed in this department, has helped improve the diagnostic quality of this clinical service. Work carried out on DFL and its application in 2010-11 are described below.
- DFL was performed on about 20 subjects and those demonstrating DFL patterns identified to relate to cervical spondylosis were further examined through X-ray and MRI. Almost all of these cases were found to have problems through this study although many of them were young in age and did not have any symptoms. Thus DFL appears to be an early indicator of such disorders. Farm Fresh, a concern of Akiz group has provided partial funding for this research.
- It was possible to convince a Medical researcher in Singapore General Hospital to take up DFL for detecting cervical spondylotic neuropathy. They carried out DFL study on 24 nerves of 12 patients and also provided us with the diagnosis based on MRI. A very good correlation was observed.
- We also observed similar patterns of DFL due to some other types of neuropathy that affects a segment of a peripheral nerve trunk. Therefore, DFL has the potential to become a screening tool for peripheral neuropathy. We are going to carry out a study on fifty more subjects to determine the cost effectiveness of DFL for such screening. International Science Program of Uppsala University of Sweden has provided funding to continue this research.
The above mentioned results strengthened our confidence in the use of DFL, an innovation of our group in Dhaka University and we are looking for its use by other groups in the world. One of our ex-student is pursuing a PhD programme in Nottingham University, UK which will use DFL as one of the investigation methods.
3. Water disinfection using Solar radiation Energy and other innovative methods:
Teachers of our department innovated simple and low cost techniques for destroying diarrhoeal germs in water using solar energy more than two decades ago. Because of the recent finding on widespread arsenic contamination of ground water lifted using tube wells, this method has regained importance. Since surface water is naturally free of arsenic, this can be rendered drinkable by simply destroying the diarroheal germs either through boiling, or through heating by solar energy in situations when boiling is not practical. It can save lives of rural people throughout the globe, particularly during floods and other natural disasters. A simple and low cost rainwater collection device was also innovated to provide drinking water. A funding from UNESCO was received in 2011 to disseminate these techniques using which two booklets have been published, one in bangla and the other in english. More than three thousand of this bangla booklet have already been distributed among people who matter throughout Bangladesh. The english version os for distribution to other countries. Further research is being carried out to make this method user friendly. Furthermore, the effectiveness of different variations of the innovated techniques, and some new methodologies are being studied jointly with the Centre for Advanced Research (CARS), Dhaka University through microbiological studies. The effects of water storage are also being studied.
More than 80% of the global population, living in third world countries like Bangladesh, live in villages. Due to practical situations it is a far cry to expect these people to have the services of an expert doctor for their medical treatment directly. Telemedicine using the modern technological innovations of computers, internet and mobile phones is coming up as a solution, and many groups are working in different parts of the world. In this system a patient in a remote village can get the consultation of an expert doctor sitting in a city hundreds or thousands of miles away through such communication facilities. In Bangladesh the health ministry has established computer video links through internet to 800 health complexes spread throughout the country with such an aim, and doctors sitting in Dhaka can virtually see a patient and talk to him or her to prescribe necessary treatment. Providing a few computer connected diagnostic instruments at the rural end of the network, the quality of this service could be improved significantly, but procuring such technology from foreign producers is prohibitively expensive, in addition to the potential problem of maintenance and repair. In order to provide an indigenous and affordable solution this department took up a project last year. Through consultation with the health ministry and other stakeholders the following five digital instruments were designed and developed, together with necessary computer software for data acquisition and transfer through internet.
- Digital Stethoscope
- Digital Microscope
- Digital X-ray view box
- Digital colposcope (for detecting cervical cancer)
- Digital ECG (12 lead, diagnostic quality)
Expert physicians examined the devices and have been satisfied with the performances. For its field application, discussions are going on with the ministry and some other organizations. Farm Fresh of Akiz Group partially funded this project.
All the above research findings have been presented in international scientific conferences, and papers have been published in international journals. In particular, items nos. 1 and 2 above (FIM and DFL) have led to invited lectures by Professor Rabbani in several countries. University of Warwick, UK, Oslo University in Norway and Kyung Hee University in Korea have started working on FIM while Nottingham University in UK and Singapore General Hospital have started work on DFL.
Besides, the projects taken up for different undergraduate projects include, i) development of a mobility aid for the blind through Ultrasound echo-location and nerve stimulation, ii) development of an aid for the profoundly deaf to deliver some intelligence on the received sound, again through nerve stimulation, iii) development of a method to diagnose osteoporosis (bone degeneration) by determining the density of X-ray images taken using ordinary X-ray equipment, iv) development of a method to determine the level of anaesthesia during surgery using EEG and audio evoked potential from the brain, v) development of an equipment to determine SPO2 of blood using light rays, vi) development of a low cost computerised portable ECG equipment and ambulatory monitoring. Some funding was received from the Ministry of Education to procure some equipment needed for training of students.
Research and Development (R&D) is also going on in the following areas:
- Computerized dynamic Pedograph system for early monitoring of high pressure regions under the feet of diabetic patients
- Mobility aid for the blind through providing varying patterns of nerve stimulation based on ultrasound echo location
- Low cost bone densitometer for detecting osteoporosis (bone degeneration) by measuring and calibrating the localised density of X-ray films obtained using traditional X-ray machines
- Finger tip SPO2 meter for measuring Oxygen content in blood
- Muscle & nerve stimulator for physiotherapy
- Iontophoresis technique for treating excessive sweating of palms and soles