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UMBC professor receives NSF CAREER Award

Helena Mentis, assistant professor of information systems at UMBC, was recently awarded the CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation for her research in surgical telemedicine.

The CAREER Award is an NSF program designed for early career faculty members who are typically pre-tenured and within their first five years of their career. Mentis said, “It’s a pretty competitive award, but it’s also really supportive of junior faculty members to get their research off the ground.”

The CAREER Award grants Mentis with $518,121 over the course of five years. Using the monetary benefits this award provides, Mentis will be able to continue her research. The money from this award will go toward her current project, “Collaborative Image Manipulation and Annotation in Surgical Telemedicine.”

Mentis’ recent work has focused on the role of surgical telemedicine in transplant surgeries. Before advancements had been made in this field, doctors would have to call one another on the phone to communicate and describe the situation pertaining to the donated organ and the recipient. With advancements, the surgical teams dealing with these transplants have been using Google glass to capture and send video in order to more effectively communicate with potential donor recipients from far distances and to ensure a successful transplant. Her research examines the work required to implement these technologies, as well as the benefits of doing so.

In order to be considered for this award, Mentis was required to write an application, generate a research idea and be able to effectively communicate her idea to the program committee.

Mentis also had to prove she was supported by a group of surgeons with whom she intended to conduct her research. Finally, with these materials submitted, a panel of scientists reviews the applications and decides on which individual’s research they would like to fund.

Surgical telemedicine allows surgeons from outside of a surgery to be able to communicate with surgeons performing the surgeries. Using surgical telemedicine, surgeons are able to telecommute into the operating room to be able to weigh in on the surgery and assist the surgeon who is performing the surgery.

This technology is beneficial for a wide variety of surgical needs. Surgeons who may need more guidance from more experienced surgeons while in the operating room can use this as a form of communication to gain information from surgeons who cannot be present during the surgery. It can also be used by collaborating surgeons as a way of communicating when one surgeon is away.

Mentis said receiving this long time award will be beneficial to further developing her research because it enables her to go into more depth. Mentis said, “I am going to be able to work in a couple of different surgical environments and see what benefits of telemedicine work in one type of surgery versus different types of surgery, and that’s actually a huge benefit.”

Mentis said she can also use this as a way to assist graduate students. Mentis said, “I hope to be able to support the next generation of information scientists to be studying this area.”

Mentis also sees this as an opportunity to expand an internship program for high schools students at the surgical stimulation center she works with at Anne Arundel Hospital. With this expansion, these high school students will be able to get more involved in medical informatics research.

Mentis also works with various UMBC undergraduates, graduates, masters and PhD students in her lab. “I really appreciate being able to have those undergraduate and graduate students working together as a team because I think everyone has a really interesting perspective to bring to the problem,” she said.

When discussing the role of undergraduate students in the lab, Mentis said, “I highly recommend any undergraduate to reach out if they’re interested in doing or seeing what research is all about.”