Professors Jaydev Desai and Nicoleta Serban are recipients of the first Peterson Professorships from the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Pediatric Technology Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Supported by the G.P. “Bud” Peterson and Valerie H. Peterson Faculty Endowment Fund, the professorships are designed to engage and empower leading researchers in a diverse range of disciplines.
“These professorships honor the Petersons’ commitment to improving the lives of children through collaborative pediatric healthcare research,” said M.G. Finn, chief science officer of the Pediatric Technology Center and chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Drs. Desai and Serban are international leaders in their very different fields, both of great importance in improving pediatric healthcare. We look forward to their exciting research and leadership.”
Desai is professor and Carol Ann and David D. Flanagan Distinguished Faculty Fellow in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University and an expert in medical robotics. Serban focuses on health analytics as the Virginia C. and Joseph C. Mello Professor in Georgia Tech’s H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Both Desai and Serban are members of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at Georgia Tech.
“Thanks to the Petersons, these professorships will help take collaborations between Children’s, Georgia Tech, and Emory to new heights,” said Lucky Jain, chief academic officer of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and pediatrics department chair in the Emory School of Medicine. “We have already made huge gains in pediatric diagnostic tests, airway support, and heart valves, to name a few. I look forward to future projects led by Drs. Desai and Serban that will pave the way to new lifesaving devices and treatments for kids.”
The Peterson name is no doubt familiar to many at Tech and across Metro Atlanta. During his decade as president of the Institute, Bud Peterson helped facilitate and build the research partnership with Children’s. The new professorships — awarded for up to six years — will support pediatric research that interfaces with Children’s.
“The progress we’ve seen working collaboratively across disciplines has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life as an administrator,” said Peterson, who remains a Georgia Tech faculty member. “The clinicians at Children’s encounter a host of different healthcare needs and problems. We develop solutions. These professorships help us map our solutions to their problems.”
Creating Robotic Solutions
For Desai, the professorship is a great honor, recognizing his existing close collaborations with Children’s physicians. It’s also encouragement to tackle a range of challenges in pediatric robotics, a heavily under-explored research area compared to adult medical robotics research.
“We are actively working on developing a steerable robotic system for minimally invasive pediatric neurosurgery as well as a voice-activated robotic hand exoskeleton customized for patients with spinal cord injury,” said Desai, who is director of the Georgia Center for Medical Robotics and associate director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines, both at Georgia Tech.
Desai said the resources from the Peterson Professorship will help support those projects and others — in interventional cardiology and cancer diagnosis, for example.
The professorship’s funding also will allow Desai to enhance research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, organize workshops to foster collaborations and build research teams for larger projects, among other things.
And, he expects, the work supported by the professorship will garner even more interest down the road, leading to larger research grants.
“This is a humbling honor for me. One of the great motivators for my move to Georgia Tech a few years back was to work in pediatric robotics with Children’s,” Desai said. “It is also an exciting investment that will lead to more opportunities and potentially tangible results at the end of the day.”
Data Science for Society
Serban’s research program has taken many turns in the 16 years she’s been at Georgia Tech, beginning with work in theoretical and methodological statistics before shifting to industrial engineering. Then, about eight years ago, she shifted directions again.
It turned out, Serban said, her training and research background provided an excellent foundation for the rigorous study of healthcare delivery and health policy, allowing her to use what she called, “principled approaches to solving real-world problems in healthcare.”
The Peterson Professorship will support her collaborative research opportunities with Children’s in two main areas: opioid prescribing and use (particularly in children undergoing surgery for severe conditions) and mental health treatment and access.
“Pediatric healthcare is where my academic heart is,” said Serban, a researcher in Georgia Tech’s Institute for People and Technology. “Words cannot express my appreciation for the support and encouragement coming from Children’s. Without them, my career and accomplishments would not be where they are today.”
The goal of Serban’s research is to use the massive amounts of data she gathers and analyzes to inform public policy and healthcare delivery. The professorship will help her continue along that path.
“My research will continue to encompass many directions, focusing on computational approaches to model massive data, and on methods crossing multiple disciplines – statistics, machine learning and optimization,” Serban said.
“As part of my future research opportunities and interests, I plan to build data science programs with substantive societal impact.”
Serban said it is also a great honor to have the Peterson name affiliated with her academic position.
"My career bloomed during President Peterson’s tenure,” she said. “I have the utmost respect for his commitment, dedication, support, and effort to keep the Institute on an upward trajectory.”