The winners of the 2011 Helen Carr Peake Prizes are Mr. Lih Feng Cheow, a doctoral student in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Mr. Shanqing Cai, a doctoral student in the Harvard-MIT Program in Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology; and Dr. Faisal Kashif, who has recently completed his doctorate with a thesis in model-based biomedical monitoring. All of the students won Peake recognition as a result of outstanding research projects seeking to improve technology used in the diagnosis and treatment of human health problems. Mr. Cheow does his work under the supervision of Professor Jongyoon Han, Associate Professor in the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Biological Engineering. Mr. Cai’s work is supervised by Dr. Joseph Perkell, Senior Research Scientist in RLE’s Speech Communication Group. Dr. Kashif’s doctoral thesis was co-supervised by George C. Verghese, Professor of Electrical Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Dr. Thomas Heldt, Research Scientist in RLE’s Computational Physiology and Clinical Inference Group.

Lih Feng Cheow’s dissertation research concerns the development of microfluidic devices to detect important biomarkers in patients that might indicate the disease risk. His aim is to apply a biomolecule concentration device to protein biosensing. Most current point-of-care diagnostic devices rely on antibodies, which can be expensive and are unsuitable for long-term storage. In a paper published in Analytic Chemistry, based on a first phase of his work, Mr. Cheow described a hundred-fold increase of sensitivity relative to the standard ELISA test, with its same antibody-antigen chemistry and procedures. Next, Mr. Cheow made use of nucleotide aptamers, which are short DNA strands that can recognize specific proteins, and are an inexpensive and potentially robust substitute for antibodies. The first problem he faced was the characteristically lower binding strength of aptamers, which leads to reduced sensitivity. By making use of unique electrokinetic phenomena in microfluidic devices that he designed, Mr. Cheow showed that the sensitivity of aptamer-based assays could be increased by concentrating the biomarkers and aptamers simultaneously. Mr. Cheow’s work has demonstrated enhanced sensitivity of this assay in serum, which holds promise for future uses in real-time patient sampling. He will report on his work at the MicroTAS 2011 meeting.

Shanqing Cai’s doctoral research is focused on the neural bases of speech articulation. Speech production is a uniquely human action and is among the most complex of human motor skills. In most people, the subjective experience of the effortlessness of speaking belies the complexity of the underlying brain control processes. Mr. Cai is particularly interested in the sensory-motor interactions in speech articulation. One of the primary questions he is addressing is whether and how the auditory perception of human speech when speaking (i.e., auditory feedback) affects the ongoing movements of the articulators. In using state-of-the-art real-time speech audio manipulation techniques to investigate this problem, he discovered previously unknown roles of auditory feedback in the online control of the spatial and temporal parameters of speech movements in fluent-connected speech. This work has been published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. Mr. Cai’s research will continue to focus on the normal process of speech and also on stuttering, a disorder of speech fluency affecting roughly 1% of the population. He is currently undertaking a study that uses an integrative approach combining psychophysical experimentation, MRI neuroimaging, and computational modeling to examine differences in the behavioral characteristics and neural properties between people who stutter and normal controls, and how these behavioral and neural differences are related to each other. These efforts can lead to deepened understanding of the mechanisms of stuttering, and, it is hoped, contribute to improved diagnosis and treatment of this speech disorder.

Faisal M. Kashif was given the Peake Prize for work associated with his doctoral dissertation in the area of biomedical and electrical engineering, in which he focused on model-based monitoring of intracranial pressure (ICP) for patients with suspected or actual brain injury. ICP is a cardinal vital sign in a wide spectrum of brain pathologies, including traumatic brain injury, hydrocephalus, stroke, and brain tumors. However, current approaches to determining ICP are very invasive and require neurosurgical expertise, as they typically involve drilling a hole in the skull and placing a catheter or sensor at an appropriate location in the brain, with significant associated risks of infection and tissue damage. Dr. Kashif’s thesis developed a simple model to relate ICP to arterial blood pressure and cerebral blood-flow velocity waveforms, both of which can be measured noninvasively or minimally invasively. Using his model in conjunction with these two measurements, Dr. Kashif developed a framework — with associated computational algorithms — for noninvasive, patient-specific and calibration-free determination of ICP, and obtained very encouraging validation results on archived data collected from patients in neuro-critical care. Owing to the noninvasive nature of his approach, Dr. Kashif’s work could lead to such monitoring being available to a vastly larger pool of patients with different severity levels of traumatic brain injury or other types of concussion injuries. Currently, he is a postdoctoral associate in RLE’s Computational Physiology and Clinical Inference Group, extending his earlier work. He is also establishing a data-acquisition infrastructure in a Boston-area neurological intensive care unit, for prospective validation of his approach to noninvasive ICP monitoring. Dr. Kashif  has presented his findings at the 2010 International Stroke Conference of the American Heart Association, and at the ICP2010 conference in Germany, held once every three years to examine issues of brain monitoring.

The Helen Carr Peake Fund, which supports these awards, was established to honor the late wife of Professor William T. Peake. The selection of this year’s recipients was done by a committee consisting of Professor Dennis M. Freeman (MIT/RLE), Professor Jeffrey H. Shapiro (MIT, Director RLE), Professor M. Charles Liberman (Harvard, Director EPL), Professor William T. Peake (MIT/RLE/EPL) and Professor John L. Wyatt (MIT/RLE).

Related Links:

Helen Carr Peake Fund

Eaton-Peabody Laboratory (EPL)

Harvard-MIT Program in Speech and Hearing Bioscience Technology (SHBT)

Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology

RLE Computational Physiology and Clinical Inference Group