In project INNOVATE, a group of researcher from IT is developing bioelectronic devices to communicate with living cells and tissues. The goal is to use electronic devices to instruct cells to repair nerves and restore faulty communication paths. For instance, devices can be used to repair spinal cord injuries or to establish a bi-directional electrical communication with cancer cells. Devices can specify patterns of electrical signals to instruct the cancer cells to switch their aggressive behavior, namely their capacity to migrate and survive.
The new therapies based on bioelectronic transducers have been possible because the research team has developed ultrasensitive devices that can record the electrical activity of non-excitable cells. Unlike neurons, other types of cells, such as cancer cells, generate very week electrical signals. In order to record these faint signals the research team developed a device with surfaces coated with a forest of structures similar to micro-mushrooms that can detect very low signals. The ultra-low noise allows demonstrating that brain tumor cancer cells can engage into cooperative activity and generate complex signals patterns alike the ones used in Telecommunications. Researchers speculate this signal mechanism may interfere with brain activity and trigger epileptic seizures in patients with brain tumors.
INNOVATE is a project coordinated by Henrique Gomes from the Organic Electronics group at IT. The consortium involves the IT branches of Lisbon and Coimbra, the CICECO – Aveiro Institute of Materials of the University of Aveiro and the Instituto de Física dos Materiais of the University of Porto.
INNOVATE is funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT) and, in its second year,already has major results published in Science Advances, Scientific Reports and IEEE sensors journal.
In 2016 a research team from IT, in collaboration with the University of Coimbra and Microsoft, developed a technology capable of evaluating in real time the reading ability of elementary school students from the 1st grade. Now, teachers and educators can already access this teaching tool through the webpage “Toca-A-Ler” to evaluate their students' reading performance online (https://letsread.co.it.pt). “The Teacher can access his class's performance, allowing him to better manage the school year expectations, identify difficulties and correcting discrepancies between students”, says Fernando Perdigão, researcher of IT in Coimbra and the project coordinator.
This assisted learning technology is based on intelligent models of recognition and processing of children speech with neural networks. “It detects and quantifies the number of correct words, pronunciation, hesitations, speed reading, and other indicators, automatically calculating a global index of the student´s reading ability "explains Fernando Perdigão. The technology can also be used as a teaching tool or to detect problems such as dyslexia.
To develop this intelligent system, researchers recorded about 300 readings from children in elementary schools. The texts that were given to the students were composed of phrases and pseudowords - words that do not exist in the lexicon but are important to assess whether a student really knows how to apply the Alphabetical code rules when reading. In a second stage, in order to validate the system, more than 100 first grade teachers from all over the country were asked to evaluate the children´s performance.