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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Draper Receives Funding to Advance Diagnoses of High-Risk Pregnancies in Developing Countries

CAMBRIDGE, MA—Draper announced that it has signed an agreement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the Gates Foundation) to partner in efforts to enable early detection of high-risk pregnancies in low-resource environments through development of ultrasound imaging systems. High-risk pregnancies are one of the leading causes of maternal deaths in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization, accounting for almost all (99 percent) of the  303,000 maternal deaths recorded in 2015.

Ultrasound imaging, a front-line diagnostic tool for perinatal care, is rarely available in the developing world, where maternal and newborn mortality rates are starkly higher than elsewhere. The development of a portable, durable and inexpensive ultrasound system offers the possibility of broader use of ultrasound. Draper’s objective under the Gates Foundation grant is to explore design options for an ultrasound system in low-resource environments, where both trained operators and image interpreters need not be present.

“Ultrasound is the primary imaging tool for medical assessment of maternal and fetal health, but in developing countries and other low-resource environments, access to ultrasound is severely limited,” said Sheila Hemami, Director of Strategic Technical Opportunities at Draper. “Making ultrasounds more available holds out the promise of improving earlier diagnosis of and intervention in both maternal and fetal conditions that require referrals to higher-level medical facilities.”

The initial concept is an ultrasound blanket or similarly flexible material that can be draped easily over a mother’s abdomen, requiring no specific orientation or alignment by the operator. A sensory array tightly integrated into a blanket and equipped with transducers to generate 3D volumetric ultrasound images will enable clinicians to make accurate diagnoses with high confidence. The blanket could be linked by wire or wirelessly to a display screen, such as a desktop or laptop computer, and the results could be viewed at the point-of-care or remotely via telemedicine.

An interdisciplinary team at Draper is leading the ultrasound feasibility study under a new Draper initiative called  Engineering Impact that applies Draper’s capabilities and technologies to global challenges. Engineering Impact’s approach is to identify, develop and execute projects in conjunction with partners working in specific challenge domains, ensuring that the ultimate solutions will be deployable, sustainable and impactful. Under Engineering Impact, Draper is collaborating with government scientists and engineers to develop a real-time measurement system for plastic particle pollution in the ocean; partnering with a children’s hospital in Boston to design, fabricate and test a  first-generation prototype of a pediatric heart valve that grows with the child; and working with a consortium of ocean conservation groups to create a prediction system for coral bleaching that will help identify reefs at risk substantially earlier than current approaches, facilitating potential interventions.

“Bringing ultrasound to the points of care in the developing world will be life changing for so many, and it’s precisely the kind of challenge and opportunity for which we created Draper’s Engineering Impact,” Hemami said. “Draper’s innovative approaches to solving seemingly impossible problems by our deep bench of world-class scientists and engineers brings a tremendous resource to many pressing problems in today’s world.”

High-risk pregnancies are one of the leading causes of maternal deaths in developing countries. Draper is working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to address the issue with a new kind of ultrasound imaging system. (Credit: Creative Commons) Draper’s initial concept is an ultrasound blanket or similarly flexible material that can be draped easily over a mother’s abdomen, requiring no specific orientation or alignment by the operator. (Credit:
Capabilities Used

Draper has designed and developed microelectronic components and systems going back to the mid-1980s. Our integrated, ultra-high density (iUHD) modules of heterogeneous components feature system functionality in the smallest form factor possible through integration of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology with Draper-developed custom packaging and interconnect technology. Draper continues to pioneer custom Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS), Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) and custom radio frequency components for both commercial (microfluidic platforms organ assist, drug development, etc.) and government (miniaturized data collection, new sensors, Micro-sats, etc.) applications.  Draper features a complete in-house iUHD and MEMS fabrication capability and has existing relationships with many other MEMS and microelectronics fabrication facilities. 

Human-Centered Solutions

Draper has continued to advance the understanding and application of human-centered engineering to optimize the interaction and capabilities of the human’s ability to better understand, assimilate and convey information for critical decisions and tasks. Through its Human-Centered Solutions capability, Draper enables accomplishment of users’ most critical missions by seamlessly integrating technology into a user’s workflow. This work leverages human-computer interaction through emerging findings in applied psychophysiology and cognitive neuroscience. Draper has deep skills in the design, development, and deployment of systems to support cognition – for users seated at desks, on the move with mobile devices or maneuvering in the cockpit of vehicles – and collaboration across human-human and human-autonomous teams.

Image & Data Analytics

Draper combines specific domain expertise and knowledge of how to apply the latest analytics techniques to extract meaningful information from raw data to better understand complex, dynamic processes. Our system design approach encompasses effective organization and processing of large data sets, automated analysis using algorithms and exploitation of results. To facilitate user interaction with these processed data sets, Draper applies advanced techniques to automate understanding and correlation of patterns in the data. Draper’s expertise encompasses machine learning (including deep learning), information fusion from diverse and heterogeneous data sources, optimized coupling of data acquisition and analysis and novel methods for analysis of imagery and video data.

Materials Engineering & Microfabrication

Draper continues to develop its expertise in designing, characterizing and processing materials at the macro-, micro- and nanoscales. Understanding the physical properties and behaviors of materials at these various scales is vital to exploit them successfully in designing components or systems. This enables the development and integration of biomaterials, 3D printing and additive manufacturing, wafer fabrication, chemical and electrochemical materials and structural materials for application to system-level solutions required of government and commercial sponsors.

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