The “Infinite” in the Bay Area

The School of Engineering recently convened MIT alumni and friends in California to talk about innovations in health care during a symposium that brought the atmosphere of Cambridge to the Bay Area, according to MIT alumnus Adeeti Ullal PhD ’13, an engineering manager at Apple in Cupertino, California.

“It was great to see alumni from all classes and many industries come together,” Ullal said. “Whether it was inspiring talks from MIT professors or casual scientific chats with fellow attendees, I was reminded of how much I enjoy sharing with and learning from the MIT community.”

In lively presentations at the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto, MIT faculty and graduate students described scientific and engineering research advances in the first “Infinite” symposium, which was developed by the dean of MIT’s School of Engineering, Anantha Chandrakasan, the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The inaugural symposium was titled “Engineers Revolutionizing Health Care.”

Dina Katabi, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, talked about the health-aware homes of the future. Her work involves using an advanced form of Wi-Fi box with an embedded machine-learning algorithm to track the breathing, heart rate, sleep, and even gait speed of individuals within a home.

“What a great response,” she said following the presentation. “People asked so many questions about how all of this could change the health care system. They were curious about the potential impact on coronary diseases in particular. And they wanted to explore questions about security and privacy.”

Biomedical engineer Carlos Castro-Gonzalez, an M+Vision Fellow at MIT, described his work at startup Leuko Labs, which is developing the first technology to monitor white blood cells noninvasively and help chemotherapy patients have safer treatments.

Leuko Labs, he said, has a working prototype that can snap pictures through the skin of a patient’s finger to make an assessment of their white blood cell status. It was recently tested in a pilot clinical study that demonstrated the technique can accurately detect chemotherapy patients with crucially low white blood cell values.

“After this milestone, the team is working to spin out the technology to a commercial venture,” he said. Castro-Gonzalez said he aimed to leave attendees with “a sense of the variety and depth of the health care-related work being performed at MIT.”

MIT graduate student Anne Kim, the CEO of GeneTank, a biotech startup, said the symposium was a wonderful opportunity to hear from MIT’s leaders in health innovation. “GeneTank is extremely grateful for the opportunity to showcase our marketplace for disease-focused artificial intelligence models, and get feedback from all the thought leaders that attended,” she said. “I hope attendees took away a shared sense of awe at the impressive work being done at MIT.”

Other presenters included Regina Barzilay, the Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, who described fundamental problems in today’s cancer care that machine learning can solve. Cullen Buie, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, talked about his work on a new microfluidic device that may speed up DNA insertion in bacteria, the first step in genetic engineering. And Linda Griffith, School of Engineering Professor of Teaching Innovation, Biological Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering, discussed her groundbreaking work unraveling the biology of endometriosis.

“In each of the research overviews there were personal touches that helped the audience to connect to the speaker and more importantly to the importance of their work,” said Alice Wang ’97, PhD ’04, an assistant general manager at MediaTek in Santa Clara. She said the presentations kept the audience engaged.

“The takeaway was that MIT is working on relevant research in the area of health care and incorporating machine learning into many aspects. The professors are passionate about their work and there is good collaboration with each other. The research is very exciting and relevant,” she said.

“Also it is quite refreshing to see mostly women professors speaking. MIT is making good strides in diversity. As an alum, I feel very proud to be associated with MIT and part of the community.”

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