Iowa City Press Citizen: Cutting Edge Work Done on Campus

Monday, December 21, 2009

B.A. Morelli
Iowa City Press Citizen 

Throw on a pair of special glasses and step into University of Iowa biomedical engineering professor Karim Abdel-Malek's futuristic laboratory.

Grab hold of a standard video game controller and maneuver -- similar to a first-person shooter game -- what Abdel-Malek said is the world's first physics-based virtual model. The lifelike virtual human is dubbed Santos.

"It's breakthrough technology," Abdel-Malek said.

High-level research often is too weighty for a general audience. But, the human modeling work -- part video game, Hollywood, engineering and medicine -- of Abdel-Malek and his Virtual Soldier Research team could pique the interest of even a child.

Abdel-Malek's creation is one of a number of inventions and breakthroughs coming out of UI research efforts.

"Even as we start to talk about it, we become more impressed with what is happening. There is just so much happening," said Jordan Cohen, UI interim vice president for research. "Iowans would be proud to know what is going on."

Some research becomes commercialized through spinoff companies. Abdel-Malek's led to a start-up called Santos Human Inc., which is based in the Engineering Research Facility.

"There are a lot of new ideas coming out," Cohen said. "Whether they are commercialized remains to play out."

Abdel-Malek has garnered $20 million in grants for the Virtual Soldier team. The goal of the technology is to improve comfort, safety and save money.

Santos can jump into different scenarios -- a battlefield, a car or an automobile manufacturing plant. Because it is physics based, researchers can examine how the body reacts to potential new techniques or equipment.

Right now, Santos is helping to develop new armor for soldiers in Afghanistan as part of a program called Lighten the Load. The idea is to test how the design of armor affects soldiers of different sizes and shapes. How quickly do they fatigue? Does the armor affect movement? These are questions Santos can help answer.

"Our tool will predict if the range of motion is still viable to do the things a soldier needs to do," Abdel-Malek said.

Throw on a pair of special glasses and step into University of Iowa biomedical engineering professor Karim Abdel-Malek's futuristic laboratory.

 

Grab hold of a standard video game controller and maneuver -- similar to a first-person shooter game -- what Abdel-Malek said is the world's first physics-based virtual model. The lifelike virtual human is dubbed Santos.

"It's breakthrough technology," Abdel-Malek said.

High-level research often is too weighty for a general audience. But, the human modeling work -- part video game, Hollywood, engineering and medicine -- of Abdel-Malek and his Virtual Soldier Research team could pique the interest of even a child.

Abdel-Malek's creation is one of a number of inventions and breakthroughs coming out of UI research efforts.

"Even as we start to talk about it, we become more impressed with what is happening. There is just so much happening," said Jordan Cohen, UI interim vice president for research. "Iowans would be proud to know what is going on."

Some research becomes commercialized through spinoff companies. Abdel-Malek's led to a start-up called Santos Human Inc., which is based in the Engineering Research Facility.

"There are a lot of new ideas coming out," Cohen said. "Whether they are commercialized remains to play out."

Abdel-Malek has garnered $20 million in grants for the Virtual Soldier team. The goal of the technology is to improve comfort, safety and save money.

Santos can jump into different scenarios -- a battlefield, a car or an automobile manufacturing plant. Because it is physics based, researchers can examine how the body reacts to potential new techniques or equipment.

Right now, Santos is helping to develop new armor for soldiers in Afghanistan as part of a program called Lighten the Load. The idea is to test how the design of armor affects soldiers of different sizes and shapes. How quickly do they fatigue? Does the armor affect movement? These are questions Santos can help answer.

"Our tool will predict if the range of motion is still viable to do the things a soldier needs to do," Abdel-Malek said.

Abdel-Malek's research relies on biomechanics and robotics, but breakthroughs and inventions are coming out of a variety of fields at UI.

Here are some other inventions developed through UI research:

• Michael Welsh, a UI professor of internal medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, developed the core technology now being used by Exemplar Genetics.

Welsh invented a method to genetically modify pigs such that the animal, which otherwise couldn't, can develop cystic fibrosis. Pigs' biology is far more similar to humans than mice, for example, which allows scientists to more effectively test new therapies to cure cystic fibrosis, said Pam York, executive director of the UI Research Foundation.

They currently are exploring ways to introduce cardiovascular symptoms to testing pigs to pave the way for breakthroughs in curing cardiovascular diseases, York said.

• Thomas Schnell, an associate professor of industrial engineering, invented software for a synthetic visioning system that allows airplane pilots to "see" the terrain despite weather conditions, York said. His invention led to the development of Advanced Infoneering.

• Richard Shields, a professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation, is researching a therapeutic exercise system called a Therapeutic Neuro-Musculoskeletal Training System. It would deliver doses of stress and stimulation to patients suffering from paralysis, spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, among others.

• The research of Raymond Hohl, a UI hematology and oncology professor, and David Wiemer, a UI chemistry professor, is being used to develop new drugs for cancer and osteoporosis through a start up called Terpenoid Therapeutics.

Their research indicated that chemical compounds in the "bisphosphanates" family could be useful in treatments that are potentially more effective with fewer side effects for multiple types of cancer, including colon, lung, breast and prostate.