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UNF MedNexus announces Research Innovation Fund winners

Six University of North Florida faculty members have been awarded grants from the UNF MedNexus Research Innovation Fund to work on innovative research studies. 
UNF MedNexus, which offers innovative learning and research experiences to prepare future healthcare providers and leaders, awarded $100,000 total in grants to support faculty conducting research that integrates emerging technology that improve health outcomes, delivery of care or direct clinical impact. 
The studies were selected through a rigorous evaluation process by a distinguished panel of community leaders including John Gol, Chief Financial Officer of Borland Groover; Reed Hammond, CEO of HCA Memorial Jacksonville; Dr. Robert Rowe, executive director of Brooks Institute of Higher Learning at Brooks Rehabilitation; and Dr. Amanda Brown, vice president of Nursing Workforce Optimization at Baptist Health.  
The six studies selected for funding are: 
  • Development of Single-Use Passive Micro-Fluidic Sensors to Detect Traumatic Brain Injury
    Principal Investigator: Dr. Christopher Oshman, mechanical engineering 

    This study will develop a low-cost, accurate, passive sensor to detect impacts and shocks that contribute to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in sports. The technology uses a 2D membrane that ruptures upon high acceleration, mixing two fluidic chambers, indicating a shock threshold. If successfully demonstrated, this technology may be widely deployed in protecting athletes from the cumulative damage of TBI. 

  • Noninvasive Brain Stimulation Effects on Memory and Gamma Oscillations in Mild Cognitive Impairment  
    Principal Investigator: Dr. Nicole Nissim, psychology  

    This project explores the impact of a two-week intervention of noninvasive brain stimulation and memory training on memory performance and gamma brainwaves in individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Gamma brainwaves, which are critical for memory processing, become impaired in MCI. Transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS), a noninvasive brain stimulation technique that shows promise for enhancing memory processes, will be examined with EEG to assess the effects of tACS on gamma brainwaves and behavior in individuals with impaired cognition.

  • Improving Care Delivery to Children with Cerebral Palsy Using Emerging Motion Capture System Technology  
    Principal Investigator: Dr. Guilherme Cesar, physical therapy  

    Cerebral palsy, the most common childhood disability worldwide, hinders typical development, impacting children’s ability to walk and control balance which, in turn, negatively restricts children’s participation in life and family activities. Although full biomechanical evaluations involving motion capture can provide clinical guidance to improve children’s balance and walking, this evaluation is limited to many children with cerebral palsy given traditional motion capture procedures may not be tolerated. Recent technology overcomes these issues, resulting in the potential to positively impact children’s participation and quality of life.

  • Mobile-App-based Pulmonary Disease Detector Using Personal Medical Devices and Artificial Intelligence  
    Principal Investigator: Dr. Xudong Liu, computing  

    To increase accessibility to healthcare and reduce cost thereof, researchers propose developing an AI-powered system, called Mobile Application Based Pulmonary Disease Detector (MAPD2).  This system aims to utilize handheld and non-invasive devices to collect patient data such as electrocardiograms, perform pulmonary disease (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) predictions using state-of-the-art AI algorithms, and visualize and present the results to the patients and doctors for further medical decision making. 

  • Exploring the Role of Molecular Chaperones in Carcinogenesis  
    Principal Investigator: Dr. Szymon Ciesielski, chemistry & biochemistry  

    In the process of carcinogenesis, numerous biochemical pathways are hijacked to promote rapid growth and uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells. That includes increased activity of molecular chaperones, proteins essential for production and quality control of virtually all other cellular proteins. Researchers are investigating if specific genetic changes are the driving mechanism behind this behavior of molecular chaperones benefiting developing cancer. 

  • MT4BioMedLLM: Towards Safe and Reliable Use of Large Language Models for Health and Medical Applications  
    Principal Investigator: Dr. Upulee Kanewala, computing  

    BioMedical Large Language Models (BioMed LLMs) are increasingly being applied in many critical health and medical applications such as medical question and answering, clinical report generation and classification, and International Classification of Diseases coding. For these applications, BioMed LLMs are used as base models and are further "fine-tuned" using application-specific datasets to obtain the highest possible accuracy. However, when it comes to health and medical applications, other quality attributes, such as trustworthiness, robustness and fairness, are equally important. Thus, in this project, researchers seek to develop MT4BioMedLLM, a framework to critically assess various quality attributes of these health and medical applications that use LLMs. Since the use of LLM-powered tools for health and medicine is expected to proliferate in the coming years, this work, which ensures the quality of the outputs, will have significant implications for both the providers and the patients. 
"We are thrilled to support these six exceptional research studies, which have the potential to make significant contributions to the field of healthcare," said Dr. Julie Merten, MedNexus associate dean. "It is particularly compelling to see how the researchers are involving our undergraduate and graduate students in world-class research.”  
The MedNexus Research Innovation Fund remains committed to supporting innovative research initiatives and looks forward to the impactful outcomes that will result from these funded studies.