URI biomedical engineering professor wins National Science Foundation CAREER grant for smart textiles

URI Professor Kunal Mankodiya to receive $525,000 over five years

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Kunal Mankodiya, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Rhode Island. Photo by Michael Salerno Photography.

KINGSTON, R.I., April 12, 2017—A University of Rhode Island engineering professor doing pioneering research in smart textiles has won a highly competitive grant from the National Science Foundation.

The $525,000 CAREER grant over five years will allow Kunal Mankodiya to continue researching and creating smart clothing—wearable items like gloves and socks—that help people monitor their health from their homes.

The NSF grant is awarded annually to junior faculty who demonstrate groundbreaking research and innovation.

“It’s an honor to receive this nationally recognized grant,” says Mankodiya, 35, of Wakefield, assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering. “It allows us to keep striving for ways to improve the health—and lives—of people throughout the world.”

Smart textiles, also known as smart garments, electronic textiles and smart fabrics, are revolutionizing the health care industry. The wearable items are embedded with sensors, electronics and software that can collect data and communicate it to caregivers.

The benefits for the patients are profound. Patients can remain at home while a doctor monitors their health from afar, measuring through iPad-like devices medical symptoms such as heart rate, respiration rate, activity and even posture. There are psychological advantages, too: patients are more involved in their care.

Mankodiya, director of URI’s Wearable Biosensing Laboratory, is largely focusing on creating wearable items—gloves, socks and shoes—that help people with Parkinson’s, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement.

Mankodiya and his students have already created gloves embedded with sensors on the fingers and thumb that measure tremors and rigidity, which are common symptoms of Parkinson’s. The team is also fabricating smart socks to monitor gait abnormalities.

“This project will have a profound impact on the growing number of elderly patients with Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions including strokes,” says Mankodiya. “Patients, without visiting clinics, will be able to independently perform movement exercises—like finger tapping and hand flipping—that doctors can analyze over the Internet, immediately or later. Smart textiles will transform today’s costly medical practices.”

Mankodiya is collaborating with Susan Hannel, chair of URI’s Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design, and Dr. Umer Akbar, a neurologist at Rhode Island Hospital who specializes in treatment for Parkinson’s. The grant will also support health technology hack-a-thons at the University.

Besides running his lab, Mankodiya teaches a popular course called the “Wearable Internet of Things.” He is also collaborating with URI’s Business Engagement Center to encourage local textile companies to partner with the University to create high-tech products.