Research provides unexpected lessons for Roy and Bhattacharjee

Abhinaba BhattacharjeeView print quality image
The image caption followsView print quality image
Graduate student Abhinaba Bhattacharjee, top photo, and junior Josh Roy joined the Health Smart Technologies startup to help develop a device for Quantifiable Soft Tissue Manipulation. Their research is expected to lead to improvements in physical therapy and other health fields. Photos by Liz Kaye, IU Communications

Research is the quest to uncover the unknown. Sometimes you get more than you bargained for in the process, which is exactly what happened to IUPUI's Josh Roy and Abhinaba Bhattacharjee when they signed on with faculty-led startup Health Smart Technologies.

Roy is a junior studying medical humanities and health studies in the School of Liberal Arts and the Honors College; Bhattacharjee is a graduate student in the School of Engineering and Technology. Both joined School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences associate professor Terry Loghmani's research team knowing they would learn more about manual therapy.

With the duo's assistance, Health Smart Technologies continued to develop a device allowing medical professionals to measure the pressure and direction of force used during treatment. This will allow for improved and more consistent treatment in fields such as physical therapy and chiropractic care.

Those technical lessons, gaining knowledge related directly to the research itself, were what Roy and Bhattacharjee expected. Seeing firsthand how the research will likely impact their own futures was the added bonus.

"Seeing this side of physical therapy is so unique that some physical therapists never see it in their whole career. I'm not even a therapist yet, and I'm already getting an opportunity to see it," Roy said. "That will help show me my interests, and if I'm interested in research, if getting my Ph.D. one day would be possible. It's good to be a fly on the wall and see it."

The project also widened Bhattacharjee's perspective.

"I had some enthusiasm in electronics initially when I was a kid. At that time, there wasn't much robotics in the country where I'm from," said Bhattacharjee, who is originally from India. "But electronics always used to make me happy and inquisitive about how things work. Now I'm studying electrical and computer engineering during my master's degree.

"When I started this project, I really wondered how it would be implemented and how it would satisfy a need. But now, at this stage, I know how it works because I have been through the whole journey. I've gained a lot of experience in medical robotics, so it will help me pursue a career in medical device development and medical robotics."

A hands-on approach to improving manual therapy

The Health Smart Technology team says Quantifiable Soft Tissue Manipulation, or QSTM, is the key to helping medical professionals understand their actions during treatment. When a therapist massages an injured muscle, for example, they can't determine with any certainty how hard they are pressing. That makes it difficult to replicate successful treatment -- both from session to session or from one clinician to the next -- and train future therapists. 

"Some therapists have gone their whole lives not knowing how many newtons of force they've applied. They're just like, 'Oh, it's moderate," which could be accurate, but they don't really know. QSTM makes it a lot more reliable," Roy explained.

Improving consistency and reliability across the board would go a long way toward reducing pain and healing injuries more quickly. Bhattacharjee specifically mentioned how the device's use could eventually benefit athletes trying to get back on the field sooner, something that should interest sports-crazy Indianapolis.

In search of a solution, the team developed device prototypes that can measure and record valuable information. Bhattacharjee was part of the engineering team that worked on the electrical architecture, ensuring communication between the device and computer software.

Multidisciplinary approach

Quantifiable Soft Tissue Manipulation research has benefited from researchers and students across campus, including those involved with computer, electrical and aeronautical engineering; health and rehabilitation sciences; and liberal arts.

"What's cool is that Abhinaba is an engineer in grad school, and we have some other engineers on the team. Dr. Loghmani's a Ph.D. physical therapist, and we have some physical therapy students and me," said Roy, who recently switched majors to medical humanities in the School of Liberal Arts because he wanted to improve his writing and speaking skills while also continuing in the medical field. "It's a very multitalented team. It helps because we're coming at this device from a bunch of different angles. One field would fail without the other."

Roy focused on data entry and interviewed practicing therapists to help identify their specific needs, bringing Health Smart Technologies that much closer to putting the device in clinicians' hands. He modestly downplays his duties as "just intern work," but he also can't be thankful enough for the opportunities he has received.

"Being part of such a cool team with Health Smart and Dr. Loghmani, even doing data entry feels like an honor."

As Bhattacharjee completes his thesis, Roy will continue working with Loghmani throughout the summer. His Life-Health Sciences internship, which matched him with Loghmani during the school year, has ended, but a grant from the Center for Research and Learning will keep him with Health Smart Technologies for a few more months.

"How cool it is that Dr. Loghmani and Health Smart are allowing me to be on that team, giving me the chance," Roy said. "They could find someone else. They could pay someone or get another physical therapy student, but they've given me, an undergrad student, an opportunity."