Misha Pavel, Ph.D.

07/20/2009 - Misha Pavel, Ph.D., new Division Head, charts a course to a future where biomedical engineering stands shoulder to shoulder with clinical care.

Misha Pavel, PhD Recently appointed Head of the Division of Biomedical Engineering in the Department of Science & Engineering, Misha Pavel, Ph.D., envisions a future in which the Division is differentiated from similar units at other schools by its close relationship to clinical care.

“Technology is likely to be a critical component of any solution to our national and even global crisis in health care,” says Dr. Pavel. “We are defining a new biomedical engineering discipline where engineers, biologists and computer scientists work shoulder to shoulder with their clinical colleagues to combat health care problems and improve quality of care.”

The high cost of technology is often cited as a factor in driving up health care costs overall but one of the Division’s goals is to help make technology more effective but less expensive when applied in the trenches – at the point-of-care. An important aspect of meeting this goal will be to provide clinically relevant curriculum in the educational process to help future physicians more effectively deploy biomedical engineering and computational techniques into their decision-making.

Dr. Pavel’s own research reflects this vision of a marriage between engineering and clinical care. His focus is on aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Several years ago, he and his colleagues from multiple disciplines began to collaboratively investigate technological approaches to care for elders that would keep them independent and maintaining a high quality of life.

The approach relies on minimally obtrusive but continuous monitoring devices with sophisticated algorithms to detect and track changes in activities and behaviors relating to cognitive and functional decline. This monitoring holds promise for helping elders overcome the decline associated with aging and neurodegenerative diseases and maintain their independence.

For example, a “smart cane” senses movements and forces for monitoring balance issues. In addition, it beeps if it is not used when the elder is moving about. “My father broke his hip when he forgot to use his walker one day and fell,” says Dr. Pavel. “Smart devices such as the cane can remind the user that they need assistance when walking or alert remote caregivers that something has happened if it has not been used for a period of time.”

The key to the success of this approach is the ability to formalize and precisely represent the processes that underlie human cognition, perception and action. “To make early intervention possible these devices have to incorporate statistical pattern recognition techniques that build computational models of brain function and detect the subtlest of behavioral changes,” Dr. Pavel says.

Dr. Pavel is part of the Oregon Consortium on Aging and Technology (ORCATECH). Already, ORCATECH has several research projects utilizing this type of technology underway.

“We are fortunate that Misha is willing to step into this demanding leadership role, which has been filled so well and so graciously by Tamara Hayes, Ph.D., during the interim period,” says Ed Thompson, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Science & Engineering. “He is already working with his faculty to craft the vision that will keep the Division at the forefront of the drive to deliver workable technological solutions to tomorrow’s health care providers.”

Dr. Pavel was born in the former Czechoslovakia and received his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from New York University and his M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. He joined OGI in 1993. During a leave of absence, Dr. Pavel was a Technology Leader at AT&T Laboratories in Menlo Park, California, where he was developing networked, wireless and mobile applications for information access and context-aware interactions. Previously, Dr. Pavel was a member of the Technical Staff at Bell Laboratories. Dr. Pavel is the author of more than 80 technical and scientific papers.