EE Alum Wins NSF Award for Breakthrough in Real-Time In-Body Monitoring Technology

EE alum Rabia Tugce Yazicigil (PhD EE '16) and her lab awarded an NSF award on Cyber-Secure Biological Systems.

Xintian Tina Wang
January 26, 2024

Rabia Yazicigil Kirby, an alumna of Columbia University's Electrical Engineering Department, has been awarded a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for her and her lab's groundbreaking work in the field of real-time in-body monitoring technology. The NSF grant aims to revolutionize healthcare by providing accurate and secure monitoring of bodily processes.

Kirby, now serving as Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Faculty Affiliate of the Center for Information and Systems Engineering at Boston University, leads the research project, which focuses on developing secure hybrid bio-electronic sensors capable of real-time monitoring of biochemical processes within the human body. The project addresses the challenges of monitoring complex disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease by providing a non-invasive alternative to invasive procedures like endoscopic biopsies.

Real-time monitoring of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is notoriously difficult due to the challenges in accessing and sampling its chemical environment. Existing methods, such as invasive procedures or non-real-time stool analysis, have limitations in accuracy and efficiency. Kirby's project aims to overcome these limitations by developing miniaturized ingestible sensors that can accurately track disease progression in real-time, all while ensuring the security and confidentiality of medical information.

The innovative technology proposed by Kirby's team combines semiconductor-enabled platforms with synthetic biology to create Cyber-Secure Biological Systems (CSBS). These systems utilize genetically engineered biological systems integrated with secure circuits for biochemical sensing, allowing for reliable data generation and communication abilities.

Kirby's project not only promises advancements in healthcare but also has broader implications for addressing societal challenges such as water contamination crises and sustainable manufacturing practices. Moreover, the project integrates education into its core mission, aiming to train students from K-12 to graduate levels in developing semiconductor-enabled platforms and fostering interdisciplinary learning.

The NSF grant, with a total intended award amount of $574,885.00, reflects the foundation's commitment to supporting innovative research with significant intellectual merit and broader impacts. Kirby's project, with its potential to transform research in medicine and environmental science, stands as a testament to the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in tackling complex societal challenges.