January 31, 2021
Meet the AUB grad student making waves in medical tech circles for her part in eDiamond, a non-invasive wearable device that lets diabetes patients check their blood sugar without painful needle pricks.
For many, 2020 was a low point. But for PhD student Jessica Hanna, it was when her personal, academic, and professional goals came together in an extraordinary way. Among other recognitions, the MIT TechReview named Hanna as one of the top ten innovators under 35 in the MENA region. Hanna is the lead PhD student on the eDiamond project, a wearable system of electromagnetic sensors that allows diabetes patients to get continuous, accurate readings of their blood glucose levels.
Hanna grew up with family members who have diabetes. “As happens in so many homes, I witnessed the pain they go through on a daily basis and the suffering that results from the complications that so easily develop. The promise of eDiamond is to erase the painful pricks that are daily routine for diabetics."
Hanna already had an undergraduate and master's degree and had worked for a year as a sales rep before pivoting into the world of biomedical innovative technologies. “I am drawn to the idea of leveraging new technologies to enhance people's lives," she says. In 2016 at AUB, Hanna was first introduced to the eDiamond project, which was in its early stages. “Diabetes affects over 400 million people in the world," she says. “I loved the idea that you could have wearable biosensors in textiles and fashion accessories. It could be life-changing for millions of people."
The work has been a collaboration between engineering and medicine. During the past five years, Hanna moved back and forth between the Antennas and Radio Frequency lab to work on the sensors and the medical EID's lab to verify the sensor's ability to detect glucose variations. The experiments progressed to animal tissues and finally to clinical trials on both healthy and diabetic patients.
Hanna recalls, “The first time we tested the sensors on diabetic rats was amazing. We were able to monitor the glucose variation without any time lag. That was so great, to see it working in real time on living animals." Hanna recalls it as a happy day for her and her supervising advisers.
There is a lot being done in the field of non-invasive glucose monitoring systems, so the challenge for the AUB team has been to make its system more sensitive, more accurate, more appealing, and unique. The first eDiamond prototypes were an armband and a glove. Now the team is working on a multi-location, multi-sensing system that can be integrated into different apparels on different body parts, designed to be more streamlined and embedded into wearable accessories and textiles that blend into a patient's daily life.
Originally the project was funded by the UK Lebanon Tech Hub. Moving into Phase II, the team is looking for investors. Hanna, the lead researcher, says the goal is to take eDiamond to the next level and enhance commercialization efforts.
As for her experience at AUB, Hanna says, “You don't expect to finish a PhD with two US patents, several high-impact journal publications, attention from international media such as Forbes, Nature, and Reuters, in addition to awards. It wouldn't have been possible without the continuous support from my advisers."*
*Hanna's advisers have been professors from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at AUB's Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) and the Department of Anatomy, Cell Biology, and Physiological Sciences at the Faculty of Medicine (FM): Joseph Costantine (MSFEA), Rouwaida Kanj (MSFEA), Assaad Eid (FM), and Youssef Tawk (MSFEA). The all-AUB research team includes other researchers who are also working to push more innovations forward.