Harnessing Tech to Unite Medical Researchers During Social Distancing

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By Mary Owen-Thomas

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Tim Truty faced a major technology challenge after the COVID-19 pandemic forced his co-workers at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center and him out of their state-of-the-art medical facility in March. 

Truty solved the problem—working long hours through a weekend—by relying on the skills that he learned in a graduate course he is currently taking in Illinois Tech’s information technology and management program.

As a second-year ITM graduate student, Truty is enrolled in a new special topics course that focuses on the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform and is taught by Martin Schray, an Illinois Tech adjunct industry professor and Microsoft principal software engineer.

“It has helped that he has a real industry background,” says Truty, who currently serves as project coordinator of devices and technology at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, a research center located in Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Truty’s challenge was that he needed a way for 25 research assistants to share very large video files. The center’s study uses an Azure Kinect, a special camera that collects depth data, to record video of Alzheimer’s patients walking. The analysis is part of a broader study to understand how people develop Alzheimer’s.

The files are about 10 gigabytes and are normally uploaded onto a physical hard drive in the office. However, with everyone forced to work from home, the research faced the possibility of being halted, which was problematic because the study was on a deadline tied to its grant funding.

“We needed a way for a lot of staff to upload the large Kinect captures for review,” Truty says. “Using Azure, and a lot of what I learned in the course, plus a bit of Google research, I set up an Azure App Service for research assistants to get us these large files.”

The app that Truty developed allows the research assistants to continue their work and prevent the research grant from completely halting in this time of social distancing.

Truty, whose graduate studies focus on embedded devices and digital systems, had never worked with Azure before taking Schray’s course, but was familiar with other cloud platforms. He has been at Rush for nine years, and now works to help researchers use devices that best collect data for their research.

ITM classes are focused on teaching both theory and application. Schray says ITM puts a great deal of effort into sharing real-world applications and uses. 

“We are thrilled to see our students making immediate use of the real-world applications we teach in our courses,” says Schray, who also teaches a web development course each fall. “Tim’s work is a great example of students immediately finding use for what we are teaching.”

Truty created a GitHub page for the project to help others: https://github.com/ttruty/AzureBlobChunkUploader

Photo: Tim Truty, pictured with an Azure Kinect camera (credit: C.E. Savage)