ECE News Spring 2012:
John Lach Creates Technology for the Aged
Whether visiting a physician for a regular checkup or a specific
medical problem, patients usually have routine readings taken, such
as blood pressure and weight, but between visits patients are rarely
monitored. For elderly patients in particular, the lack of consistent
contact with a health care professional can add up to serious problems,
as crucial early signs, such as the weakening of joints and muscles or
the onset of tremors, may go undetected.
Associate Professor John Lach, together with Engineering School
and U.Va. Health System colleagues, founded the U.Va. Center for
Wireless Health to address gaps in the monitoring of patients. The
center is designing body sensor networks that monitor a patient’s
condition and indicate potential problems. The center first designed
wireless sensor nodes that track the patient’s motion. “The sensor
devices in the nodes are accelerometers and gyroscopes,” Lach
explains. “From this motion data, we can extract medically relevant
“For example, for fall-risk patients it is particularly important to
monitor ankle strength and stability over time, so we wanted to collect
data on a continuous basis, but in a non-invasive and inexpensive way.
Fortunately, we’ve been able to achieve both goals — the technology
we’ve deployed is about the size of a wristwatch, and a full monitoring
system will likely cost less than $100 when mass produced,” said Lach.
What’s next? “The center validated these systems in a number of
medical studies and is eager to start using them in clinical practice
to improve patient care while lowering overall health care costs,” said
Lach’s Center is one of many examples within the School of Engineering and Applied Science of the impact of faculty research. Increasing these types of research programs is an important goal of the School’s Strategic Plan. “We’re big believers in doing this kind of design and research because of its applicability to real-world medical challenges,” said Lach.