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Get Smart


By Jack Feuer

Published Oct 1, 2016 8:00 AM

The UCLA Center for SMART Health combines the forces of medicine and engineering.

The SMART watch measures breathing levels for asthmatic kids with emoji-style alerts. Photo by Michelle Reardon.

About 15 years ago, recalls UCLA Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Majid Sarrafzadeh, he and his team built a technological marvel, a new knee hammer that was much more accurate than the traditional versions.

But when they took their invention to the hospital, the doctors told the engineers, “‘Nobody will use that,’” Sarrafzadeh says. “‘Doctors have 10 seconds to do this, and your hammer needs 10 minutes to set up.’ We took it to the business school, and they said, ‘Nobody will use that. The current ones cost five bucks and yours costs 500

The message was clear: To succeed, not even the most elegant engineering solution can be perfected in a vacuum. Partnerships are essential. Fast-forward to today, and the newly formed UCLA Center for SMART Health (Systematic, Measurable, Actionable, Resilient and Technology-Driven), a union between the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. Its mission: to develop and test health-care devices and systems to address challenges in the way health care is delivered, and to facilitate and support collaboration among engineers, computer scientists, clinicians, biomedical researchers and information technologists.

The innovative new center is the product of the combination of a gift from philanthropist John Garrick for the creation of a UCLA Institute for the Risk Sciences, in cooperation with the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Its first two projects are sensor-related. The first, called the SMART Home Lab, is a mock residence in an engineering lab where researchers can simulate patients’ responses to treatment and evaluate the reliability of home health sensors. The second is a smartwatch app that uses smiley or frowning faces to tell asthmatic kids how well they’re breathing; the phone can signal when an asthma attack may be imminent.

The center is designed to cut through “what has historically been bureaucratic red tape to allow high-value, high-impact projects to succeed,” says Arash Naeim ’90, M.D. ’95, UCLA professor of medicine and the UCLA Health System’s chief medical officer for clinical research. Naeim and Sarrafzadeh are co-founders of the Center for SMART Health.

The center will also work on analytics to give researchers and clinicians insight into how technology impacts patient care. “The fundamental and applied research performed in the SMART Health Center could have an unprecedented impact on care,” concludes Sarrafzadeh, adding “predictive analytics is revolutionizing decision-making that can improve health care and quality of life.”



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