Dawson, colleagues develop noninvasive probe to measure muscle atrophy

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October 28, 2009

From tracking the progression of muscle loss in patients with Lou Gehrig's Disease, also known as amyloid lateral sclerosis, ALS, to potentially measuring muscle atrophy in astronauts on a mission to Mars, a new device being developed by Joel Dawson, the Mark Hyman, Jr. Career Development Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and principal investigator in the Microsystems Technology Laboratories, MTL, shows that promise.

In what Dawson described to the MIT News Office, Oct. 28, 2009, as a process not unlike what Apple researchers encountered in designing the popular iPhone and iPod, the goal was to develop "a device which practically teaches the user on the spot--as user interface goes, a work of genius."

The electric impedance myography (EIM) probe measures a muscle's resistance to an electrical current by passing a small, non-painful amount of current through the muscle using two electrodes. Measuring this impedance or resistance over time and in multiple directions in muscular atrophy patients gives an accurate picture of muscle loss or gain. With the help of postdoctoral associate Hong Ma, Dawson has worked up a second generation of the probe which avoids painful electode inserts. The device is now being tested in patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, under the instigation and direction of Dr. Seward Rutkove, Director of the Division of Neuromuscular Disease.

Dawson and his colleagues describe the latest generation of the EIM probe in a paper they have submitted to the Annals of Biomedical Engineering. They presented the first generation probe at the IEEE International Engineering in Medicine and Biology conference in 2008.

When he joined the MIT EECS Department faculty in 2004, Dawson, also an avid violinist, was introduced to Dr. Seward and this unique opportunity, by Seward's wife Elena Ruher, MIT lecturer in music and theater arts and Dawson's former music teacher during his student days at MIT ('96, SM '97). Dawson noted: "A lot of my lab's research is on microchips for wireless systems, and electronics for cell phones and base stations. Wireless communications have helped people, but here the sense of help is a little bit more direct."

Read more:MIT News, Oct. 28, 2009: "A new way to measure muscle"

the Dawson Research Group