Professor Tania Douglas’s body of work is attempting to help South Africa find answers to one of the country’s biggest headaches – disparities in health. Douglas’s research focuses on how scientific innovation can be used to improve the health of SA’s 55-million citizens. Her work also concentrates on how the health ecosystem can be advanced by innovation and collaboration across universities, industry, government, civil society organizations and communities. Douglas is a Full Professor in the Division of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Cape Town, where she also holds the DST/ NRF Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering & Innovation. Douglas serves as the Director of the Medical Imaging Research Unit and is the founding Director of the newly established Biomedical Engineering Research Centre.
Douglas develops knowledge and skills to support sustainable technological innovation to improve health and address health disparities. Her research areas include medical imaging, computer vision, health technology innovation for low-resource settings and social-technical systems. With her establishment of a new postgraduate programme in health innovation – unique in South Africa and one of only a few of its kind in the world – and her long-standing involvement in training postgraduate biomedical engineers, she has created an ecosystem in which technology development is embedded in a social context for the identification of novel solutions for improved health. The health innovation ecosystem is further supported by research into health innovation management, which aims to understand how health technology innovation has been and might be, advanced in SA through collaboration across universities, industry, government, civil society organizations, and communities.
In the last 10 years, Douglas has published 56 articles in peer-reviewed journals and has written three book chapters. She has supervised 5 Ph.D. and MSc students to completion. She has been awarded grants by national and international funding agencies such as the NRF, the SA Medical Research Council, the Cancer Association of SA, the National Institutes of Health in the US, and the European Commission. She was distinguished by Quartz Africa magazine as one of its 30 African Innovators for 2018. Her technology, entertainment and design talk on the importance of grounding health technology in its context, has, to date, received more than 1.1 million views. Douglas is the founding editor of an open-access electronic journal, Global Health Innovation. This journal has the mission of advancing and disseminating interdisciplinary knowledge on all aspects of social and technological innovation for improved health and healthcare, with an emphasis on research addressing low-resource settings. She has been a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research in Cologne and at the Free University of Berlin, an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University College London, a Visiting Professor at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, and at Northwestern University in Chicago. Douglas is a Fellow of UCT, a Fellow of the South African Academy of Engineering, a Member of the Academy of Science of SA, and a Fellow of the International Academy for Medical and biological engineering
History of medical imaging
The origin of medical images is around the start of the 20th century, after the discovery of the x-ray. This started a growing interest in radiology, but it took off during the Second World War. Medical imaging initially started with x-rays that would be passed through the body onto some film, which would generate an image. They could take up to 11 minutes, unlike today where an x-ray takes just milliseconds. There were lots of improvements to this initial technique over the first half of the 20th century, but in the 1960s came ultrasound scanning. The development of sonar during World War II allowed this to become a reality, – it works by sending a stream of high frequency, low wavelength sound waves to penetrate through the body and hit the organs inside, bouncing back to the detector.