For as long as Sunghoon Ivan Lee can remember, the challenge of using scientific principles to solve real-world problems has fascinated him. As a teenager growing up in Vancouver, Canada, he often spent his free time developing software programs and algorithms for new purposes – even for mundane tasks such as counting the number of days since he was born.
Inspired to enter academia at the suggestion of his best friend’s father, who is a faculty member in electrical engineering at Inha University in South Korea, Lee is now an Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Advanced Human & Health Analytics (AHHA) Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. At UMass Amherst, Lee’s research focuses on how to integrate digital technologies to understand health conditions and promote health behavioral change in individuals with motor/cognitive impairments, such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injuries, and osteoarthritis.
In December 2020, Lee was one of four applicants selected to receive funding as part of the first ever Center for Smart Use of Technology to Assess Real-World Outcomes (C-STAR) Pilot Project Program – an opportunity he learned about through Mary Ellen Stoykov, PhD, a clinician-scientist at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.
For his project, Estimating Upper-Limb Impairment Level in Acute Stroke Survivors Using Wearable Inertial Sensors and a Minimally-Burdensome Motor Task, Lee is studying how everyday mobile technologies, such as smartphones and smartwatches, can be used by stroke survivors to self-manage their conditions and rehabilitation process.
With funding from the C-STAR program, he will collect data from stroke survivors who have moderate-to-severe upper-limb impairment, and then develop machine learning-based algorithms to estimate their impairment level. He will also analyze important features of movement elements that may reveal specific motor impairments and how these impairments progress over time. With this pilot data, Lee’s long-term goal is to develop a simplified protocol for assessing stroke recovery that is easy to implement and is less burdensome that current techniques.
“I hope the human-centered technologies that I develop could provide stroke survivors with personally-important information to help them understand their condition, especially for those who do not have easy access to in-person rehabilitation therapy – for example, patients with mobility limitation or in rural/underserved areas,” he says.
As part of his participation in C-STAR, Lee presented his research idea via an hour-long IdeaLab session in January 2021. IdeaLabs are interactive, cross-disciplinary “white board” sessions that provide investigators with feedback for early-stage projects. During the session (held virtually due to COVID), he received feedback from researchers and clinicians on the project’s feasibility and innovation, “which is not readily available to receive elsewhere,” he notes.
In the next five years, using principles from information technology, engineering, and clinical sciences, Lee hopes to develop mobile health technologies that stroke survivors can use to self-manage their conditions based on data-driven collaborations with scientists and clinicians. “Furthermore, I will continue to educate young researchers to be forerunners of such interdisciplinary clinical research,” he adds.
Fun facts: His father, who is of Korean heritage but lived in Russia for many years, named him Ivan in homage to Russian culture. “So, I have been exposed to many different cultures; maybe that is why I am working on interdisciplinary research?,” he says. Outside of his full-time position as a researcher, Lee enjoys cooking, snowboarding, and is a whiskey enthusiast.