Our research

The BioDesign Lab has a diverse team of engineers, designers, researchers, clinicians, and clients. The diversity of our team and interests means we are involved in numerous projects, including the projects of final year engineering students who have an interest in bioengineering. Within this diversity we retain a core focus on developing both health and wellness solutions by following what we call the MUM principle – monitor, understand, modify.

Clinical interests

Our clinical interests include the early detection, prevention/rehabilitation, and when necessary treatment of:

  • Chronic stress
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Metabolic diseases, eg type 2 diabetes
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Musculoskeletal disorders/disabilities
  • Chronic pain disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Respiratory infection
  • Neurological disease
  • Mental health conditions

We also have a strong focus on optimising both physical and mental performance, and injury prevention and rehabilitation. Our partners include NASA Ames, the Sports Performance Research Institute New Zealand (SPRINZ), and the Human Potential Centre.

More about our partners

Core research and development themes

Dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the part of our nervous systems responsible for the fight/flight/fright and the rest and digest responses, appears to precede numerous conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. This part of the nervous system heavily influences things like our breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and immune function. We believe this central role in controlling physiology make it a prime target for early detection and non-pharmacological treatment.

Historically, the autonomic nervous system has been monitored using measures of heart rate variability, and galvanic skin resistance, the latter being what is used in so called ‘lie detector’ tests. While both have value, they also have several limitations that mean they can only be relied in a small range of settings. This why we are working on developing and testing alternative technologies to monitor the autonomic nervous system over long periods in a broad range of settings.

We are exploring ways of modifying autonomic function using breathing techniques and technologies (see below), autogenic training, virtual reality, and other non-invasive non-pharmacological methods. By combining effective monitoring and modification, we will be able to offer both early detection of dysfunction and real-time advice to quickly restore balance.

Over the last few years, the BioDesign Lab has focused heavily on breathing technologies for the treatment of sleep apnoea and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD). The prime example of this is the Rest Activity Cycler (RACer), an alternative to more traditional continuous positive airway pressure that respects the nasal cycle and its important contribution to respiratory health, sleep quality, and mental health.

Another enhanced breathing technology we are developing is being investigated for its potential in respiratory infection prevention, alleviation of rhinosinusitis, autonomic nervous system regulation in a broad range of conditions, and enhanced recovery from exercise.

Recent student projects

Wearable and other sensors now allow us to collect an unprecedented amount of information, e.g. heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, physical movement, and blood glucose. However, this only becomes truly useful when we know what all that information is telling us. We work with range of external partners to meet the challenge of integrating and understanding this data using artificial intelligence (AI) solutions.

Researchers will be able to use this to develop a deeper understanding of human physiology in health and disease, and this in turn will be passed on to clinicians to allow for much earlier and more accurate diagnosis and prognosis. The wearers will be given a new insight to how their body is coping with life, so they can make small changes as and when needed, and get rapid feedback on how well those changes are working. Clinicians will also, with the patients consent, be able to regularly check how well people are responding to treatments. The ultimate goal is to provide an individualise proactive health technology platform that makes genuine personalised medicine standard practice.

Some of our team, including postgraduate students and commercial partners, focus on developing assistive, rehabilitation technologies, and systems inspired by biology. We study human and animal musculoskeletal biomechanics to produce innovative devices that address unmet bioengineering needs.  There is a strong emphasis on supporting humans, and in some cases animal biomechanics, using advanced prosthetics and other technologies.  Among different projects, we are working to develop solutions for musculoskeletal rare disorders and issues derived from traumatic-impact accidents.

One human example is work on a device for wrist healing and rehabilitation, and one from the animal arena is the development of a prosthetic limb for sea turtles. The latter is part of a broader interest in developing ocean focused technologies for the study of biomechanics in deep sea dwelling animals.

Current projects

These are current student projects being undertaken in sub-areas of the musculoskeletal biomechanics, assistive and rehabilitation technologies theme.

Sub-area: healthcare technology

  • Investigation and design of a new rehabilitation system to treat children’s lower limb with neuromuscular problems based on soft robotics (Alberto Gonzalez, PhD candidate, 2019-ongoing)
  • Investigation of Ankle De-loading Device Based on Artificial Soft-Robotic Muscles for Patients with Ankle Osteoarthritis (Hossein Basereh, PhD candidate, pending start)
  • Design a new instrument for pediatric laparoscopic surgery (Sana Khan Azmi, BE undergrad, 2019-ongoing)

Sub-area: ocean technology

  • Investigation of advantages of Sea Turtle Underwater Robot against conventional UAVs (Nick Van der Gueest, PhD candidate, 2020-ongoing)
  • Investigation of advantages of Manta Ray Underwater Robot against conventional UAVs (Harshith Devanahalli, PhD candidate, pending start)
RACer (rest activity cycler) housing prototype
3D printing of component housing

Meet the team

The BioDesign Lab has a diverse team of engineers, designers, researchers and clinicians working across a range of projects.

Our people

Partners and collaborators

We work with a number of external researchers as well as industry partners. Find out who we work with, or get in touch to find out more.

Our partners