Amy Leavey features as a Westmead member profile this November. She shares with us below her research and her personal motivations for starting a degree in biomedical engineering.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Amy Leavey and I am a 4th year student currently studying a Bachelor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Sydney. Working within the field of biomechanics and biomedical engineering has always been something I have been highly interested in. 7 years ago, at Westmead Hospital, I had two major spinal surgeries where rods, screws and bone graft were used to straighten and fuse my spine. I was so inspired by the biomedical advances that made my surgery possible that it motivated me to begin a degree in biomedical engineering in the hope that one day I could be a part of a team working to design and develop biomedical advances that help others. I was therefore thrilled to receive an Engineering Sydney Industry Placement Scholarship (ESIPS) which has allowed me to return to Westmead Hospital to complete my honours thesis within the Westmead Applied Research Centre.
What is your research on?
As part of the ESIPS program, I have been given the opportunity to spend 6-months working full-time on my honour’s thesis. I am working with a team within the field of cardiology, utilising patient data and computer programming skills to analyse cardiac size. Specifically, my project has two aspects.
Firstly, left atrial enlargement is clinically associated with cardiac disease however positive correlations between left atrial size and body size variables indicate that an increase in body size is also associated with an increase in left atrial size. The challenge associated with this is being able to differentiate between enlarged values due to normal body growth (physiology) and enlarged values as a result of cardiac disease (pathology). My role is therefore to determine the most effective way of eliminating the effects of body size to allow true left atrial size to be determined.
Secondly, the way the left atrium is measured has evolved over time from using left atrial diameter (one-dimensional) and area (two-dimensional) to now using volume (three-dimensional). It has previously been found that left atrial diameter and area severely underestimate left atrial size, which as a result underestimates the prevalence of left atrial enlargement. I therefore aim to determine how many patients at Westmead Hospital would have been diagnosed with left atrial enlargement according to each method and what impact switching methods would have had on patient diagnosis.
What are the real-world consequences of your research?
Effectively eliminating the effects of body size will allow for true left atrial size to be determined and therefore allows clinicians to be able to confidently distinguish between physiology and pathology. This will ensure patients are correctly diagnosed and prescribed appropriate and timely treatment. This will be particularly useful within overweight and obese populations as left atrial size is currently overcorrected within these populations and thus the prevalence of left atrial enlargement is currently underestimated. Additionally, it is important to understand the limitations of different measurement methods and the potential impact this has on patient diagnosis.
What does digital health mean to you?
Digital health involves utilising advancing and innovative technology to improve the way health care is delivered for both patients and clinicians. It is a broad term that can range from using machine learning to improve the detection of disease/illness to utilising virtual reality to train clinicians. As a young biomedical engineer, I think digital health is extremely important and has the potential to improve patient quality of care and quality of life.
What are some of the highlights of working at WARC?
I have been extremely lucky to work within the Westmead Applied Research Centre (WARC) for the last 5 months. Although my time here has only been short, the team has always made me feel extremely welcome and supported. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting likeminded people and learning from them about all the innovative projects and studies they are involved with and the positive impact that they will have on the broader community. Before working at WARC I had a fairly limited understanding of clinical studies, however, being here has really opened my eyes to how exciting the research world is!
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Huge thanks to Amy for featuring in our November newsletter!