UA Engineering Faculty Part of New Federal Initiative to Advance Flexible Hybrid Electronics

ECE professor Linda Powers is part of a team of researchers who will advance flexible hybrid electronics under the Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics, a major new government initiative. Inventors of total artificial heart, disposable blood-testing kits and wearable health-monitoring tools will advance U.S. manufacturing of bendable and wearable technologies.

Three University of Arizona biomedical engineers renowned for developing medical monitoring and diagnostic devices that are portable, practical and precise are participating in the Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics, or FHE MII, a major new initiative announced at the White House on August 28, 2015.

College of Engineering researchers Linda Powers, Bijan Najafi and Marvin Slepian join several other UA researchers participating in the new program, which will be managed by the FlexTech Alliance, a Silicon Valley-based research and trade organization. 

FlexTech Alliance has received $75 million over a five-year period from the U.S. Department of Defense, with matching funds of more than $96 million in cost-sharing from nonfederal sources, to manage the new institute.

"This partnership will increase our ability to bring flexible, stretchable electronics applications to reality, especially in the area of biomedical sensors," said College of Engineering Dean Jeff Goldberg. "We also look forward to increased opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students, and to developing relationships with the other FlexTech Alliance industry and academic partners."

Mobile Med Tech Pioneers

The institute will advance FHE technology for many applications. Priority areas include:

• Revolutionizing electronic wearable information devices to monitor vital signs and physical states to optimize health and lifestyles decisions; and

• Improving medical technology delivery -- through biomarkers and device implants -- which can monitor vital signs for the elderly, those with chronic conditions, and soldiers during combat.

Professors Powers, Najafi and Slepian are pioneers in these areas.

Linda PowersLinda Powers, Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair in Bioengineering, has developed fast, disposable blood tests for pathogens that cause HIV, hepatitis and other diseases.

These portable devices contain sensors that detect fluorescent signatures of live pathogens and capture these pathogens with specially designed binding mechanisms. The U.S. military is adopting the technology to test for infectious agents in blood that is intended for emergency transfusions.

Powers, professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering, was one of the primary participants in the University’s contribution to the alliance formation and was among UA researchers who attended the White House announcement of the institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.

"This is one of the most exciting research and development opportunities in the world right now. It is an unprecedented opportunity both to train students and to contribute to a high-tech society for the betterment of all," she said.

Bijan Najafi is professor of surgery, medicine, and biomedical engineering and director of the UA Interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance, or iCAMP. His team has created sensor-based wearable devices for people with diabetes and other conditions and illnesses that impair mobility.

"We are translating flexible hybrid electronics technology and products for many clinical applications, including preventing diabetic foot ulcers, preventing falls and monitoring frailty," Najafi said. "This new federal initiative will dramatically advance our work and help millions of mobility-impaired individuals lead more active and independent lives."

Marvin J. Slepian, MD, professor of medicine and biomedical engineering and a cardiologist at the UA Sarver Heart Center, created the world's first and only FDA-approved total artificial heart, and is now adapting the product, manufactured through his company SynCardia Systems, for children and other patient populations.

In collaboration with leading U.S. researchers, including other participants in the FHE MII, Slepian is developing a new class of small, high-performance biodegradable electronic sensors. The sensors can be integrated into medical implants to track blood pressure in heart transplant patients; and used as wearable patches for motion and physiologic monitoring of patients.

"This initiative will drive advances in precision health, remote monitoring, home care and remote health care," said Slepian, McGuire Scholar in the UA Eller College of Management and director of the Arizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation. "By advancing the development and deployment of inexpensive and personal wearable medical monitoring technologies, it will also address issues of health care disparities in Arizona and across the United States."

White House Fact Sheet: Obama Administration Announces New Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Hub in San Jose, CA.

University of Arizona College of Engineering