Spotlight on: Jennifer Blain Christen
As an electrical engineer, Associate Professor Jennifer Blain Christen has spent a good portion of her career dabbling in different fields, including health care field and biological sciences.
Blain Christen’s enthusiasm for exploring new and different ways of applying electrical engineering earned her the funding to leverage her expertise to create an innovative new diagnostic tool.
The project aims to develop a disposable, point-of-care biosensor for rapid diagnosis and health monitoring, supported by a four-year,$1.8 million Smart and Connected Health award from the National Science Foundation.
Working in conjunction with Arizona State University’s Flexible Display Center and Professor Karen Anderson of the Biodesign Institute, Blain Christen envisions a sweat-absorbing patch about the size of a nicotine or birth control patch with the ability to provide an immediate window into a patient’s health. A small screen within the patch, much like a miniature TV screen, will use light to examine molecules within sweat. The screen projects light through the molecules with the color of emerging light indicating the presence or absence of disease. Each pixel on the screen can look for different biomarkers, or measurable indicators to diagnose disease, and monitor for a variety of illnesses or health conditions.
“Everyone has a cell phone. In some cases, people have cell phones before indoor plumbing” Blain Christen also wants to enable these sensors to communicate with mobile devices, leveraging the computing power of smartphones. Transmitting information through mobile devices saves times for health caregivers and opens new possibilities beyond point-of-care applications.
“Everyone has a cell phone. In some cases, people have cell phones before indoor plumbing,” says Blain Christen, who envisions using that power to collect location data to aid in epidemiological studies. “Why not use that technology to collect the information fora centralized body? That way you empower people with information to do something about it.”
Blain Christen also envisions the technology being used in developing countries with dispersed, remote populations, where it can be difficult to determine the severity and spread of illness. They can also be used as a rapid screening tool for people entering from regions affected by diseases like Zika virus, Ebola or dengue fever.
Blain Christen’s work is based in electronics, but she finds its application to other areas the most rewarding. “We have such rich availability of resources in electronics,” she says. “To be able to leverage that and bring that into a new field is really exciting. It’s so much fun to learn and experiment with my discipline in other fields.”