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NCSA Awards 2023 Fiddler Innovation Fellowship

Bara Saadah, a Carle Illinois College of Medicine student, was awarded the 2023 Fiddler Innovation Fellowship by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications during a ceremony April 26.

The $10,000 fellowship is part of a $2 million endowment from Jerry Fiddler and Melissa Alden to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to support the Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media Institute. Based at NCSA, the eDream Institute awards exceptional, creative, and interdisciplinary students and faculty who propose significant projects that address cultural and global challenges using art, science and technology.

Saadah and co-founder Caywin Zhuang created an anti-fatigue vest that utilizes multiple sensors to measure a surgeon’s posture in real time and provides feedback, alerting them to correct any improper posture that may lead to fatigue. The sensors measure the user’s position and acceleration to calculate their posture. The design of the vest also provides neck support and helps reduce back pain.

Bara’s innovative solution to a common and sweeping problem in the field of health care is a first-rate example of the type of interdisciplinary and creative thinking that the Fiddler Innovation Endowment supports. We are grateful to Jerry Fiddler and Melissa Alden for their generous support.

Bill Gropp, NCSA Director and eDream Institute Director
NCSA Director Bill Gropp and 2023 Fiddler Innovation Fellowship winner Bara Saadah shake hands.
NCSA Director Bill Gropp congratulates 2023 Fiddler Innovation Fellowship winner Bara Saadah.

Unlike current market solutions, which can be cumbersome and uncomfortable, Sadaah’s innovation was designed with surgeons in mind, featuring size adjustability, full range of motion and sterile field maintenance. It also includes an alert system to recommend surgeons take a “micro-break” to stretch their muscles, which diminishes fatigue symptoms and re-energizes surgeons. A companion phone application is in development to view posture data from surgeons over the course of multiple surgeries.

“I am honored to be the recipient of the Fiddler Innovation Fellowship and I am excited about the impact it will have on my work in innovation,” Saadah said. “With this award, I plan to continue developing the anti-fatigue vest with my co-founder Caywin Zhuang, which reduces neck, back and shoulder pain of surgeons through posture correction and physical support. We aim to refine our innovation and create a product that addresses the needs of surgeons while promoting their well-being.”

The Grainger College of Engineering’s Technology Entrepreneur Center, Gropp and NCSA Senior Research Coordinator Olena Kindratenko conducted a rigorous review to determine this year’s fellowship winner.

“We were impressed by Bara’s effort and the interdisciplinary team of graduate and undergraduate students who collaborated on the project,” Kindratenko said. “We believe that the potential impact of this product on surgical professionals and their patients could be significant.”

“Bara is an exceptional medical student who has demonstrated his dedication to innovation and healthcare access through his work in designing an innovative wearable device, an anti-fatigue vest for surgeons,” said Irfan S. Ahmad, assistant dean for research and executive director of the Health Maker Lab at Carle Illinois College of Medicine. “Bara has been highly involved in interdisciplinary collaboration across medical, engineering and business. In this project, Bara has played a pivotal role in creating a device that addresses a critical problem facing surgeons.”

Long term, Saadah’s anti-fatigue vest will hopefully help minimize the physician shortage by reducing early retirement of surgeons due to deteriorating health.

“Our anti-fatigue vest is a game-changer and has the potential to significantly improve the well-being of surgeons, and ultimately enable more patients to have their surgeries performed,” he said.

Saadah’s innovative healthcare goals go beyond lengthening careers and helping surgeons limit their fatigue during surgery. He has another venture aimed at providing direct assistance to patients with diabetes, dubbed Diabeta Coach, which earned an award in the 2023 Cozad New Venture Challenge.

“As I begin my residency in psychiatry at Carle Foundation Hospital this summer, I am eager to use the support from the Fiddler Innovation Fellowship to continue innovating at the intersection of engineering and medicine,” Saadah said.

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