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Graduate student uses obstacles as inspiration

December 15, 2010

Challenges are fuel for master’s graduate Shaher Al-marzougi. “I’m in a wheelchair but I’ve never looked at that as an obstacle, he says. “To me it’s inspirational – it gives me the power to push on and reach for my goals.” 

Perhaps as a result of his spinal cord injury, suffered as the result of a fall at age 7, Al-marzougi initially considered a medical career, with hopes of finding more effective treatments for spinal cord injuries. But he discovered a new challenge in computer programming and earned a bachelor's in Computer System Engineering from ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. 

Finally, he discovered a program that melded his love of medicine and computing. At ASU’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, Al-marzougi  is studying how to create better prothestic arms, working under the direction of Dr. Kanav Kahol.

As scientists and engineers attempt to develop a multi-functional prosthetic arm that works just like a flesh-and-blood one, Al-marzougi seeks a solution to a critical stumbling block.

In a research poster submitted to the 2010 BMI Graduate Student Spring Symposium, Al-marzougi describes the design of a bionic arm: "The patient thinks about a specific movement such as flexing the elbow or opening and closing the hand. The brain transfers the message via electrical impulses in the nerves, which are then received by implanted electrodes and translated by computer signals to the artificial arm, which creates the movement. The eventual goal is to create a complete feedback loop to the brain, so that the amputee can feel the sensations of touch and develop more precise, finely-tuned control of the hand."

The obstacle to realizing this goal is a weakness in a four-channel electronic signal device. Al-marzougi uses his computer programming knowledge to analyze the electronic signals and the relationship between signal overlaps and frequencies. His goal is to deliver research that will be key to getting the signal channels to work together more effectively, creating more precise communication between the brain and the prosthetic.
“This project will bridge the gap between Biomedical Engineering (BME) and Biomedical Informatics (BMI) approaches for sustainable prosthetic arm development,” he says.

Al-marzougi’s Graduate Student Spring Symposium poster won an Honorable Mention. He has previously been inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society and joined its National Dean's List.

As he receives his Master of Science in Biomedical Informatics, he says: “This is a dream come true for me and a big milestone in my life. There were a lot of obstacles, but I have learned to turn obstacles into a power that motivates and pushes me to reach my goals.”

Michele St. George,
Graduate College
(480) 965-5995