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Updated 10:00 AM February 9, 2009

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Students' medical data logger enables national clinical drug trial

Six engineering students have invented an electronic data logger kit that makes it easier for medical researchers to conduct clinical drug trials in ambulances.

The kit can record voices, display when its medication contents are expired and register when the ambulance arrives on the scene, among other features.
Computer engineering undergraduate students Keegan Reilly, Ray Smith and Dan Lagreca show off the medical datalogger kits they helped to invent.

In early February the National Institutes of Health's Neurological Emergencies Treatment Trials network is distributing 150 of the students' data loggers to its 17 hub medical research institutions across the country.

The kits will be used in a four-year national study comparing how ambulance patients respond to two different anti-seizure drugs: lorazepam, which must be given in the vein; and midazolam, which is easier to administer because it can be given in the muscle. Both medications are given as shots.

Medical researchers chose the students' prototype over a design from an engineering firm. Their solution was the most elegant, said Dr. Robert Silbergleit, principal investigator on this RAMPART study and associate professor of emergency medicine at the Medical School. RAMPART stands for Rapid Anticonvulsant Medication Prior to ARrival Trial.

"I was very impressed that they came up with a design that was very functional, efficient and streamlined," Silbergleit says. "It does exactly what it needs to do and nothing that it doesn't need to do. And they were able to deliver it on time."

Clinical drug trials are notoriously difficult to conduct in ambulances, he says. Paramedics busy caring for patients don't often have time to fill out a research record that accurately notes exactly when they arrived, when they gave medication and how quickly the patient responded. The data logger kits do this work for the paramedics.

The kit contains the medication, a clock, a GPS tracker, an accelerometer, a vibration sensor, a time-stamped voice recorder, two special D-batteries, a thermometer, an SD memory card and a 16-bit microprocessor to pull everything together, says Dan Lagreca, a senior computer engineering major who worked on the project.

The components are off-the-shelf. Getting them to work together was the toughest part of the project, says Patrick Quinn, a master's student in the division of Computer Science and Engineering. Quinn oversaw the project.

The team started the project in April, worked full time on it all summer, and finished up in the fall. Several of them spent two days field testing in ambulances in Cincinnati.

This project is a product of the College of Engineering Undergraduate Student Projects Lab, which allows students to experiment with embedded systems under faculty supervision. The students do both the hardware and the software design, have a printed circuit board fabricated, and then assemble and test their design before they hand it off to the customer, says Mark Brehob, a lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and lab director.

Other students involved in the data logger project are Craig Spencer, a mechanical engineering major, and Andrew Jones, Keegan Reilly and Ray Smith, computer engineering majors. Faculty members who worked with the students are Darren McKague, research investigator and adjunct lecturer in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences; and Matt Smith, a senior engineer in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

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