The Engineer's Impact - Elvis Chen

Your inside look at faculty’s research and its effect on society

In this new Q&A series, we’ll feature Western Engineering faculty members to gain a succinct overview of their research, understand its impact on society, and discover intriguing little-known facts.

Meet Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Elvis C. S. Chen

elvis-chen-115x163-ajCan you describe your research?

My research focuses on improving healthcare for patients undergoing minimally invasive surgery. In minimally invasive surgery, medical teams use small incisions and specialized tools to perform surgery. This surgical approach, as opposed to traditional open surgery, causes minimal trauma to the body, leading to the potential benefits of faster healing, lower rates of complications, shorter hospital stays, decreased blood loss, and lower readmission rates. However, operating through small openings also means that surgeons can no longer rely on their own eyes and hands directly because the surgical target is now hidden beneath the skin. Instead, they need to rely on medical imaging modalities (such as ultrasound) and medical instruments (such as catheter) to perform delicate techniques through tiny openings. My team and I are developing a "GPS for surgery" to assist surgeons in the navigation of surgical instruments through the complex and critical anatomy, just like how a GPS assists a driver in navigating through unfamiliar terrain. We are developing and validating surgical navigation systems, both software and hardware, for neuro, cardiac, and abdominal surgeries.

How does your research impact society in everyday life?

Due to the potential for shorter hospital stays and the ability to perform certain surgeries in an outpatient setting, minimally invasive surgeries are now seen as a strategy to reduce surgical backlogs. While the technology required for minimally invasive surgeries can be more costly in the short term than traditional open surgery, research has shown that they generate overall cost savings for the healthcare system in the long run.

What’s an interesting, little-known fact related to your research?

Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, a German physicist, is credited with the discovery of X-rays in medicine. One of the first medical imaging taken of human anatomy is an X-ray image referred to as 'Hand with Rings.' The subject was Roentgen’s wife, Anna Bertha Ludwig's left hand, featuring their wedding ring. When she underwent the world’s first x-ray on a human, on Dec. 22, 1895, Mrs. Roentgen exclaimed, “I have seen my death.”