Where would medicine be today without engineering? The answer to this leads to a very interesting discussion and this column is a small step towards highlighting the role of engineering in medicine and biology, and how Sri Lanka can contribute to this rapidly evolving field. What is Biomedical Engineering? Biomedical Engineering (BME) is, simply, offering [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Exploring Biomedical Engineering projects at the University of Moratuwa


Where would medicine be today without engineering? The answer to this leads to a very interesting discussion and this column is a small step towards highlighting the role of engineering in medicine and biology, and how Sri Lanka can contribute to this rapidly evolving field.
What is Biomedical Engineering?

Biomedical Engineering (BME) is, simply, offering engineering solutions to problems faced in medicine and biology. Biomedical Engineering serves to close the technical gap between engineering and medicine and biology, to advance healthcare including diagnosis, monitoring and treatment. In a broad sense, biomedical engineering can be sub-categorised into instrumentation and imaging, biomechanics and biochemical and biomaterials. A thorough understanding of basic engineering disciplines such as electrical, electronic and computer, mechanical, chemical and materials engineering is essential in the successful implementation of any biomedical engineering task.

BME in Sri Lanka

Dr. Ajith Pasqual

The biomedical industry in Sri Lanka is on the rise, although the main focus at present is on the installation and maintenance of biomedical equipment. However, it is expected that within a few years Sri Lanka will catch up with the global trend for improved healthcare facilities, leading to a greater demand for related goods and services, thus opening up the opportunities for biomedical engineers and the enhancement of the local biomedical manufacturing industry. Sri Lanka can look towards developing the infrastructure necessary for local manufacturing of low cost medical solutions, while adhering to international standards, which can position Sri Lanka as a competitive player within the South Asian region.

BME at the University of Moratuwa

At the University of Moratuwa, substantial biomedical engineering related research and product development work is being carried out primarily at the Departments of Electronic and Telecommunication Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. Since the inception of biomedical engineering activities, through a couple of medically inspired projects at the undergraduate level in 2004, the number of biomedical engineering related projects have significantly increased. In 2012, we established an industry sponsored biomedical research and development laboratory for product development and commercialisation. Furthermore, in 2014, the Biomedical Engineering undergraduate programme commenced.

Specific Research Projects

Research is the cornerstone of the field of biomedical engineering at the university, as it is still in its primary stages of development. The following gives a summary of a few interesting projects currently in development at the University of Moratuwa:

Study of endothelial function by non-invasive monitoring at the fingertip

Vascular diseases pose a great threat to the general public in Sri Lanka as well as worldwide. These include heart attacks, strokes (carotid arteries) and chronic kidney diseases (renal arteries). How would you like to predict the possibility of being affected by these diseases? Even now a series of blood tests will allow a specialist to carry out this type of prediction. How about getting a prediction 10 years in advance without even doing a blood test? You might a see a BME product doing just that quite soon! Early stage formation of plaques of fatty material on inner walls of blood vessels can be correlated to the dysfunctionality of the endothelium, which is a highly active monolayer of cells that forms the interior of blood vessels and plays a key role in maintaining stable vascular health. Early detection and quantification of the endothelial functionality may have greater value in advance diagnosis of the aforementioned diseases. The focus of this research is the development of a methodology to study endothelial dysfunction by thermal monitoring at the fingertip, which has shown promising results and is non-invasive in nature.

Analysing gait in lower limb amputees using Inertial Measurement Units

Lower limb disorders and amputations are common causes for abnormalities in human gait patterns. Currently, the identification of gait disorders and their rehabilitation is mainly due to the prior experience of therapists. The Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) based human gait analysis system, conceived in collaboration with the Sri Lanka School of Prosthetics and Orthotics (SLSPO), provides a more scientific way of identifying and monitoring gait disorders in the clinical study of Prosthetics and Orthotics. It helps the physician by providing real time measurements of human movement and analysing the human gait in detail.

Plantar foot pressure and temperature measuring system for diabetic patients

About 10 per cent of the Sri Lankan adult population is affected by diabetes. Chronic diabetes may lead to ulceration of the foot which could result in lower limb amputations and affect an estimated 5.5 – 7.5 per cent of the diabetic population. However, early detection of these ulcers is possible by analysing the pressure and temperature of the foot plantar, in which case remedial measures can be prescribed to prevent lower limb amputations. We are developing a system to detect foot plantar abnormalities through pressure points and temperature variations of the foot plantar. The aim is to develop an effective plantar foot pressure temperature measuring system for early diagnosis of diabetic foot ulcers.

Commercialisation of research

The University of Moratuwa Research and Development Laboratory for Biomedical Technologies, sponsored by Premium International, is the latest addition to the industry-sponsored laboratories at the university. The lab focuses on medical product development for commercialisation, addressing the long-felt need for traversing the full path of product development. This will be a place for creative medical professionals to develop their innovative ideas, from concepts to marketable products. The laboratory will also focus on applied research related to EEG, tele-medicine and image-guided therapy with the objective of developing futuristic products that will have a global appeal.

As the first of its products for commercialisation, the Pulse Oximeter was selected. The Pulse Oximeter is a very important device used in hospitals, and the annual requirement of these units is relatively high. This device was entirely designed and developed using local technology. At present, the device is being tested in a round of clinical trials.


Prototypes of these projects and many more by the students of the Department of Electronic and Telecommunication Engineering will be displayed at the Open Day on the April 20 and 21 at the University of Moratuwa. Interested parties are invited to attend this event. The university is also seeking industry partnership and sponsorship for these projects, as well as interested students to conduct postgraduate research. Suggestions for new areas of research, contributions and donations can be made by contacting relevant staff members of the department. More information on the projects can be found at http://www.ent.mrt.ac.lk/bme. Additional information for this column was provided by Dr. Anjula De Silva, Dr. Pujitha Silva and Mr. Thilina Ambagahawaththa.

About the writer:

Dr. Ajith Pasqual is the Head/Department of Electronic and Telecommunication Engineering, as well as Director/Centre for Information Technology Services (CITeS), at the University of Moratuwa. He can be
contacted via pasqual@ent.mrt.ac.lk.

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