Catching them early

Naima Kaabouch, associate professor of electrical engineering and director of the Signal/Image Processing Laboratory, College of Engineering & Mines.

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Among the thorniest health problems around is the upswing in Type II, or so-called adult onset diabetes. Left untreated, it’s fatal, and before that certain eventuality, diabetes results in loss of feeling in extremities such as the feet — too often leading to amputations.

Signals expert Naima Kaabouch has been working for several years on technology that could provide earlier detection of foot ulcers in people like diabetics, before those ulcers break through the skin and lead to more serious health consequences, such as amputation.

With collaborators around the world, Kaabouch is also working on the earlier detection of cancer by finding signals that tell clinicians about microcalcification, early warning signs of cancers such as breast and prostate. Microcalcifications are very small calcium deposits and are the smallest particles that a mammogram can detect. They’re normal as women age, but they also can signal the presence of cancer.

“In many organs, cancer starts at a microscopic level,” said Kaabouch. “We are developing techniques that are safe and will enhance existing devices to show these microscopic hints about the potential for cancer before it becomes a tumor. It’s about seeing more accurately.

“For foot ulcers, it’s the same — we spend millions annually in this country on diabetes-related amputations,” said Kaabouch. “These diabetic ulcers start invisibly. Then when you see them, it’s too late. So we’re developing technology to analyze the temperature of the foot, looking for areas where there are temperature differences, a sign that something is wrong.”

“Among the ideas we’ve worked on — and are looking to develop — are temperature sensors in the shoes of diabetic patients.”


Naima Kaabouch’s research interests include signal/imaging processing, sensing, smart systems, wireless communications, and cognitive radio systems. At the University’s Founders Day banquet in February 2016, she was honored with the UND Foundation/B.C Gamble Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, Research or Creative Activity, and Service. 

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