Bio-engineering - Interview
Making instruments intelligent

Dr Siamak Najarian, a biomedical professor at Iranís Amir Kabir University of Technology, was ranked first in the invention section of Iranís annual Razi Medical Science Festival recently for his tactile sense project. He spoke to Mahssa Mohegh about tactile sense.

Mahssa Mohegh: You are currently president of the Biomedical Engineering Department of the Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran. Can you tell me about your background in teaching?
Siamak Najarian: I came back to Tehran 12 years ago after I finished my studies in Oxford (United Kingdom). At that time, the biomedical engineering department of this university [Amir Kabir University of Technology] was new and I joined the biomechanical board. I started work on artificial limbs and organs. Iíve already served as director of the biomechanical board and I have been heading the department for the past one-and-a-half years.

MM: Can you tell me about your research activities?
SN: I work on modelling of biological systems, analysis of the mechanism of biofluids, minimally invasive surgery, robotic surgery and tactile sense. For the moment, I am concentrating my efforts on artificial tactile sense, a field few people have worked on. Iíve launched an artificial tactile sense lab in Amir Kabir University of Technology. A similar lab exists in Canada with which I co-operate.

MM: Can you explain further about your artificial tactile sense project?
SN: The world is interested in making solid systems intelligent and you know that medical equipment is not capable of intelligence. But our limbs are intelligent and they understand a lot when they touch something. This sense is vital in medical diagnosis and treatment. Taking the pulse of a patient or touching lymphatic glands are clear examples.

Moreover, minimally invasive surgery requires tactile sense and it minimises the risk of injuries, contrary to open surgery. Tactile sense has been the solution to minimally invasive surgery since the late 1990s and research in this field is going on seriously.

MM: Can tactile sense be used in other clinical areas?
SN: Yes. Tumours apply pressure on tissues and cause deformity in neighbouring tissues. Tactile sense is capable of diagnosing such complications. Tactile sense can be in diagnosis of breast cancer, for example, because x-ray imaging harms the body. Medics can find tumours by touching the body of patients.

MM: Can you explain tactile display?
SN: Imagine a box fitted with a large number of pins. If an object like a book exerts pressure on the pins, they will move equally, but if you put pressure with your finger on the box, you will only observe a displacement the size of your finger. This simple idea forms the basis of tactile display.

MM: What are the challenges in designing and implementing tactile sense systems
SN: Designing and implementing such systems requires a thorough knowledge in all biomedical fields. Tactile sense is located at the intersection of bioelectrical, biomechanical and biomaterial domains.

MM: What systems have you developed so far?
SN: My foreign colleagues have helped me produce a tumour-locater and pulsetaker. They are totally noninvasive and they have given good lab responses. We are currently working on an artificial suture-maker.

Dr Najarian is the author of several books regarding bio-engineering and numerous peer-review journal papers. He is also the recipient of several internationally recognised awards for his work in bioengineering.

Mahssa Mohegh is the editor of Tehran-based Iran BME magazine.

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