Spotlight on… Dr Elizabeth Rendon Morales

Every now and again, we have a bit of a spotlight on one of our faculty members – finding out not only about their research, but a bit about their background and what drives them… today we are chatting to Dr Elizabeth Rendon Morales, who is doing some groundbreaking work in sensor technology in our Engineering Department…

Previous research:

I think moving countries has allowed me to think differently.

I did my masters in France, I did my PhD in Spain, and now I am here. My background is in telecommunications engineering.  

I wanted to study engineering because my father was an engineer.
He taught me the basis of electricity and magnetism which really caught my interest. My father, mother and brothers have always been very supportive and they always encourage me to keep following my dream, especially if it is helping others.

I like telecommunications engineering but I wanted to do something more.
My previous experience, as a telecommunications engineer, I did a lot of organisation of sensor and wireless networks and although it’s a really good research area, I didn’t get any contact with the people.

I’m interested in improving future technology in order to enhance the quality of people’s lives.

My PhD project focused on telemedicine applications. A network of sensors attached to the human body was used to communicate clinical information to the doctor using wireless communications from remote areas where technology is not usually available for screening.

Current Research

My current work is based on the development and testing of sensor technology for monitoring long-term cardiac activity during embryonic stages.

Two years ago, I proposed this project on a Marie Curie Fellowship scheme. I wanted to utilize my engineering skills and focus more on sensors and heart related diseases so that I can develop new technologies.

I am designing and testing novel sensor developments based on basic electric field detection which has been invented at the University of Sussex in order to build future diagnostic technology.  This technology measures the electricity from the body in a non-invasive way, which means we can monitor signals from our heart.

This technology, will help us to understand more about how the heart develops.

It would be possible to learn more about how heart abnormalities develop, for example, Congenital Cardiac Arrhythmia, which is costing the European economy almost £1.96 million per year.  It will have a real impact, as doctors and cardiac researchers will have access to this information to understand more about diseases in order to develop medicines.

We need alternative technologies to gather information regarding the development of the heart.

This information doesn’t exist, that is why this research is important. This technology was tested on an adult heart a few years ago, but because the adult heart was completely developed there was no way to find if there were any abnormalities when it was in development. But it’s very difficult to collect the heart activity from babies as this could only be found when the baby is developing inside the womb of the mother. As we are not able to test it on pregnant women, we’re are using a biological, model organism that has heart characteristics similar to the human heart, which is the zebrafish.

The human heart size is 2000 times larger than that of the zebrafish.

My research is challenging because we focus only on embryos in order to see all the processes within the heart when it is first formed. It is fascinating when I’m performing experiments on the zebrafish heart and see how the heart is pumping and how the cells are working together to generate electricity.

zebrafish

What motivates me is to develop real technology for real people.

This research has opened several opportunities and has gathered the attention from researchers in hospitals as they could implement the technology in foetal cardiology.

We are now working on a collaborative proposal with Sussex Royal Children Hospital.

This technology could be very useful as midwives could monitor the heartbeat of the baby throughout labour without having to use invasive procedures. This will also be very welcome for people having babies, like me.

The Future

I am an engineer and I am not a biologist or cardiologist, but biologists and cardiologists need engineers to develop tools.

I definitely would like to establish my own group and secure research funding. It is really my aspiration to continue and become a leader within research in the field of technology for applications in bioscience and healthcare.

I said to my group leader, maybe I am passionate.  I think my dream to help people will become true.

It’s very exciting in the sense that my research is also linked with my life as I’m pregnant, so it’s fantastic to combine both. It is really fascinating to feel how this biological process occurs in my body, now that my baby is growing.

I believe that we need to do what we love and in my case I have been blessed to work within the area that I like and contribute to society, to people.  It is great.

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