New chair appointed for innovative cerebral palsy research

22 September 2017

Robotics and artificial intelligence to support people with disability are just the tip of the iceberg, says the newly appointed Ainsworth Chair of Technology and Innovation.

Professor Alistair McEwan.

Professor Alistair McEwan.

Professor Alistair McEwan from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies has been selected for the important role.

In this position Professor McEwan will focus on harnessing advancing technology and innovation to accelerate the search for new and improved treatments and interventions for childhood disabilities and illnesses.

This position will work across the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and the Grace Centre for Newborn Care (The Children’s Hospital at Westmead), and will sit within the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at the University of Sydney. The Ainsworth Chair of Technology and Innovation is believed to be the first in the world for children’s health, in particular disability.

Professor McEwan said that he was passionate about engineering technology innovation to solve problems of real clinical need.

“I have spent the last few months engaging other researchers in cerebral palsy research and visiting labs around the world who work on technology related to cerebral palsy to learn from them. My focus is now on identifying priority areas and engaging more engineers to help address technology challenges,” he said.

In the future, Professor McEwan plans to investigate improved methods of mobility and communication for people living with cerebral palsy, using the latest available technologies.

For example, we will look at how we can assist movement using bionics, robotics and artificial intelligence to help people with cerebral palsy stay better connected to their communities.

The new research Chair was established following a generous donation by Australian philanthropist Len Ainsworth, through the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, to the University of Sydney’s INSPIRED Campaign.

Cerebral Palsy Alliance CEO Rob White said that innovation around technology is set to take leaps and bounds for people living with a disability.

“Things that would have seemed impossible a decade ago are a reality, like children using eye-gaze technology to communicate; cooling of critically ill babies to let their brains repair and diagnosing cerebral palsy as early as three months, just shows what a focus on this area can achieve,” he said.

“We have seen what Professor McEwan has already achieved as part of our research teams and we are excited to see the leaps in the robotics and artificial intelligence he will lead.

“Imagine what we can achieve now we have dedicated focus on using technology and innovation to produce better outcomes for children with a disability.”

Professor McEwan brings a wealth of knowledge to the role. He is no stranger to innovation having worked as part of a research team from Westmead Clinical School with life-saving outcomes.

He was part of the team who published a report examining the early identification of infants at a high risk of developing intraventricular haemorrhage – more commonly known as bleeding on the brain.

 “Identifying intraventricular haemorrhage within the first 24 hours of an infant’s life is hugely important in managing the bleeding, so our research may be helpful in offering caregivers more time to adjust intensive care treatment,” Professor McEwan said.

Professor McEwan has also been working with the research team at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance to adapt cognitive tests and develop a measure of pain and anxiety for children with severe physical impairments who have no speaking ability and are not able to use current tablet technology.

Professor Archie Johnston, Dean of Engineering and Information Technologies, thanked the Ainsworth Foundation and the Cerebral Palsy Foundation for their support.

“We are delighted to be focusing our research attention on this vitally important area of biomedical engineering,” he said.

“People often think of engineers as people who build machines, buildings and bridges, but Professor McEwan’s research is an excellent example of the real impact that engineering discoveries can make on human health and improving people's quality of life.”

About the INSPIRED Campaign

The University of Sydney’s INSPIRED Campaign is Australia’s largest philanthropic campaign, having raised more than $770 million from more than 55,000 donors across seven continents.

Jennifer Peterson-Ward

Media and PR Adviser (Engineering and IT)

Related articles