Stevens Students Design Database Management System to Combat Neonatal Lupus
May 2, 2011
Stevens Institute of Technology students are using their system design and programming skills to help search for a cure for neonatal lupus, a disease that kills newborn infants and their mothers. The Senior Design team of Vincent Lipoma, Jason Van Buiten, Mark DeLillo, Jonathan Grana, and David Fonorow are creating an extremely complex, yet user-friendly multiple-platform, Database Management System for the New York University Research Registry for Neonatal Lupus. The system will allow researchers to organize their neonatal lupus data and query it to find patterns in their search for a cure.
The team's advisor is Dr. David Klappholz, Associate Professor of Computer Science.
Lupus is defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as, "an autoimmune disease in which the immune system produces antibodies to cells within the body leading to widespread inflammation and tissue damage." While the exact cause of lupus in adults is unknown, neonatal lupus is known to occur when a baby passively acquires the mother's lupus auto antibodies in utero. The most serious manifestation of the disease is congenital heart block, which requires a pacemaker and has a 20 percent mortality rate.
The NYU Research Registry for Neonatal Lupus tracks information about newborns affected by the disease and their mothers, but their current system is unwieldy and difficult to use for medical researchers who do not have training in Computer Science. The Senior Design team came to the rescue, creating a solution that allows users to easily input, arrange, and search data, all in an easy-to-use system with a relatively shallow learning curve.
Team manager Vincent Lipoma describes the technical challenge: "It's essentially our job to make the current system - a black screen with white text - understandable and usable on an intuitive level to someone without technical knowledge." The final product is a web-based graphical user interface (GUI) that interacts with a MySQL (text-based) database. The GUI makes textual data visual, and more intuitive for the average user. Whereas NYU's old system had researchers input commands, they can now simply click a button.
Another new feature is a web interface, which ensures that information can be viewed and sorted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by non-Computer Science medical research staff. "Our clients will be using this piece of technology every day to search for patterns in their data," Vincent says.
The team has already had a taste of success, having demonstrated the software. "The group's most exciting moment so far was showing the beta software to the client. They were ecstatic even though the product was unfinished," Vincent says. "We got to see our hard work pay off."
"When we did the run-through with the client, it was great to see how much he appreciated our work," says Jason Van Buiten. "Having him tell us how he would use this to help cure the disease was very rewarding."
For Vincent, this is a milestone in his interest in Computer Science, which began with a course in website construction and Flash game programming in high school. Since then, he has learned to properly design software systems and to program in many different languages, many of which came in handy on the project. Looking back, he says that integrating his learning from the past four years was one of the most exciting aspects of the process. "In creating this custom software, we needed to use a number of languages. It's like using several tools to build a house."
Professor Klappholz and Computer Science Department Director Dr. Dan Duchamp are extremely proud of the senior design team, especially as the database system designed and implemented by the senior design team has a strong chance of saving hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.