Careesa Liu examines a device that measures brain activity at the NeuroTech Lab at Surrey Memorial Hospital. She is a finalist for a YWCA Women of Distinction Award.

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SFU grad student develops technology to impact patient care and improve health

April 12, 2019
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By Sarah Lachance

SFU PhD candidate Careesa Liu’s research focuses on relatively small areas of the brain, but her view of science and technology is much bigger.

A biomedical engineer, Liu is completing her PhD at the NeuroTech and ImageTech Labs, both clinically embedded core SFU research facilities near the Surrey campus. She is also working to turn young students from Surrey and beyond into science and technology innovators and give back to her community.

Recognized for her contributions to the medical field, Liu is also a nominee for a 2019 YWCA Women of Distinction Award in the research, sciences and technology category, alongside doctors and professors. Liu is being cited for her research in neuroimaging and neurotechnologies.

“It’s a great honour just to be considered,” says Liu.

In 2018, Liu received the Vancouver Board of Trade’s Women to Watch award and is now one of the judges determining this year’s recipient.

Liu’s passion is developing technologies that impact patient care and improve patient health. She previously co-invented the Halifax Consciousness Scanner, a portable EEG device to look at brain waves and assess brain function. It has been patented in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

At NeuroTech Lab, where many SFU researchers are testing and developing technology solutions, Liu studies the brain’s awareness of the environment as part of its “vital signs.” The opportunity to carry out her research beyond a university setting means she can develop her skills and innovate as part of Surrey’s burgeoning Health and Technology District, where she hopes to start her career.

Liu's research has the potential to impact diagnostic approaches in brain injuries as well as age-related changes in the brain.

The applications of her research include a recent collaboration with the Mayo Clinic related to brain changes from concussions.

Her thesis research focuses on blinking and how the brain gathers information from its environment. This research has the potential to impact diagnostic approaches in brain injuries as well as age-related changes in the brain.

Liu works on this research under the supervision of SFU professor Ryan D’Arcy, head of Health Sciences and Innovation at Surrey Memorial Hospital and co-founder of Health Tech Connex Inc., which specializes in brain vital signs.

Beyond her scientific achievements, Liu is passionate about working with students in the community. Early in her graduate studies, she teamed up with colleague Sujoy Ghosh Hajra to create the Surrey Collaborative Outreach and Research Experience, or SCORE.

This innovative Surrey-based student training program connects high school and university students with leaders across business, academic, healthcare and research organizations to solve real-world healthcare challenges and develop the next generation of community leaders. 

To date, SCORE has reached more than 120 students from both Surrey and across Canada, and received international recognition for its achievements in training youth in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

“You see science in the real world; It means so much more than learning about it or reading about it in a textbook,” says Liu.

As part of her YWCA nomination Liu is also participating in the Connecting the Community Award. Based on online votes supporting each nominee, the winner chooses a charity to receive a $10,000-donations, courtesy of Scotiabank Canada. Liu has chosen to support reducing child poverty, and the YWCA’s efforts to help vulnerable children obtain access to housing, support, nutrition and education.

Visit https://bit.ly/1STJklP to vote for Careesa Liu.

The 36th annual YWCA Women of Distinction Awards will be held in Vancouver on Monday, May 13, 2019.