Engineering Research Center for Precise Advanced Technologies and Health Systems for Underserved Populations (PATHS-UP)
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Chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD) are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. Every 30 seconds one American will be diagnosed with diabetes and another will suffer a coronary event. These diseases are a burden in underserved communities across the US due to higher prevalence and reduced access to care. Overcoming this human and economic burden is a grand challenge. The vision for the NSF-ERC on Precise Advanced Technologies and Health Systems for Underserved Populations (PATHS-UP) is to change the paradigm for the health of underserved populations by developing revolutionary, cost-effective technologies and systems at the point-of-care. Led by Gerard CotÃ© at Texas A&M University in partnership with the University of California at Los Angeles, Rice University, and Florida International University, PATHS-UP brings outstanding expertise to overcome four barriers endemic to POC devices, the need to: be field deployable, have high accuracy, have low complexity, and be affordable. The mission of PATHS-UP is defined by two overarching goals: (1) to engineer transformative, robust, and affordable technologies to improve healthcare access, enhance the quality of service and life, and reduce healthcare costs and (2) to recruit and educate a diverse group of scientists and engineers who will lead the future in developing enabling technologies to improve health in underserved communities.PATHS-UP will develop two transformative engineered systems to monitor key biomarkers (biochemical, biophysical, and behavioral) of chronic disease: a Lab-in-your-Palm (LiyP) and a Lab-on-a-Wrist (LoaW). The LiyP will be enabled by novel amplification biochips based on nano-engineered single-molecule chain reactions combined with innovative handheld computational imaging and modular spectroscopic instruments. The LoaW will be enabled by unique, "bar-code like" biochemical marker implants (grain of rice in size) coupled with a novel wrist-worn spectral imager to visualize the implant through tissue and innovative sensors to monitor biophysical markers (cuffless blood pressure, heart rate). PATHS-UP will also develop innovative algorithms that monitor behavior (diet, medication intake) and predict long-term complications. These enabling technologies are founded on rigorous research in biomaterials, nanoscale systems, sample enrichment, computational imaging, multimodal data integration, and machine learning. Testbeds include one-of-a-kind in vitro phantoms, human subject studies in controlled lab environments, and patients in underserved communities. Developing and integrating these transformational systems into communities requires a multidisciplinary team of engineers, medical doctors, public health experts, industry professionals, and community health leaders. Such broad technical scope and societal outreach go beyond traditional funding sources and require the formation of the PATHS-UP ERC. The team will use participatory design and community engagement to prevent PATHS-UP from merely throwing technologies at these communities, and instead develop technologies that seamlessly integrate into their lives.Underserved communities in every US state have higher prevalence and less access to equitable healthcare services. Thus, many people in these communities go undiagnosed or are diagnosed late, which can lead to serious consequences. To address this challenge, PATHS-UP will develop advanced technologies to prevent, delay the onset, and manage diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This requires both the development of transformational health technologies and systems and a paradigm shift in how these technologies are integrated into communities. Beyond the obvious societal health impact of the Center?s systems, the students, post-docs, and faculty nurtured by the Center?s intellectual community will also be a significant outcome of PATHS-UP. The team has a passion to promote meaningful, lasting, engagement with K-College students, especially under-represented minorities and K-12 teachers in our partner underserved communities. PATHS-UP will provide experiential learning and new engineering/public health curriculum for college students, research experiences for K-12 students and their teachers, and opportunities for participatory design with key stakeholders and community engagement, to promote a rich intellectual environment. The team also has a history of entrepreneurship, having spun off biomedical companies with students, and see building the innovation ecosystem as a vital part of PATHS-UP.