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July, 2011

Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

July, 2011

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Functional Lens Promises to Improve the Quality of Life for Diabetics and Others

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    Functional Lens Promises to Improve the Quality of Life for Diabetics and Others

    Millions of people worldwide live with type 1 diabetes, a potentially devastating disease with no known cure. People who have type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin in their pancreas, so they must constantly monitor their blood sugar levels while balancing food intake against insulin intake. It’s a mentally taxing, painful process that must be repeated throughout the day.

    A collaboration between Associate Professor Babak Parviz at the University of Washington (UW) and Microsoft Senior Researcher Desney Tan is focused on developing a non-invasive, technological solution that promises to improve both the health and overall quality of life for people with diabetes: a contact lens that monitors blood glucose levels. The functional lens technology is representative of a trend in technology known as Natural User Interface (NUI).

    NUI technology has the potential to provide user benefits without being obvious to others or intrusive to the user. We believe it has tremendous potential in the healthcare industry, where technology is a necessary, but not always pleasant, part of a patient’s diagnosis or care. The functional contact lens is an excellent example of how NUI can change patient monitoring from “snapshots” of information to continuous health monitoring that could potentially improve the wearer’s overall health—especially for those with a chronic disease, such as diabetes.

    Today, people with type 1 diabetes use needles to draw blood from their fingers multiple times throughout the day—every day, including meal times—to check their blood glucose levels. By monitoring their glucose levels, they can more easily ensure that they maintain an acceptable glucose level, which is critical to optimal health and longevity for diabetes patients.

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    The Daily Impact of Diabetes

    Daily, repeated blood draws are a painful necessity for people with diabetes. This process has limitations because the monitoring is only periodic. Diabetics may experience glucose fluctuations that require correction—for example, by increasing insulin intake or eating a piece of candy to raise their blood sugar level—anytime of the day. Regular glucose monitoring, in addition to sensible dietary choices, are part of daily life for Kevin McFeely, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 30 years ago, and his two young children, who also have diabetes.

    “If I don’t check my blood sugar, or my children don’t check their blood sugar daily, there are some different things that could potentially happen,” he explained. “If my blood sugar gets too high, I have noticed that my vision begins to blur, I begin feeling nauseous, very, very tired, and just almost physically sick. And potentially, if I let that go, I could pass out from having high blood glucose.”

    Low blood sugar also presents a danger to people with diabetes. If glucose falls too low, a diabetic may begin to sweat, suffer an elevated heart rate, and potentially lose consciousness. So it is critical that diabetics monitor their blood glucose on a regular basis throughout the day. McFeely’s children, who are ages seven and ten, are responsible for managing their disease and monitoring themselves at school throughout the day.

    “I’m used to testing myself six to eight times per day. I’ve been doing it for 30 years,” McFeely says. “But boy, when I think about my children… I mean, you have a spring-loaded needle that’s coming into your finger, and it hurts them. I can see their faces [when they test], and I can see them cringe.”

    A New Approach to Monitoring Health

    As envisioned, the lens would be worn daily, just like regular contact lenses. But instead of, or in addition to, correcting vision, the lens would monitor the wearer’s glucose level through their tears. Much of the information that can be obtained through blood testing is also accessible on the surface of the eye. The functional lens is being designed to sample eye fluid, analyze it, and transmit the information to a reporting machine. A tiny radio transmitter embedded in the lens will handle the information transfer.

    Parviz’s team at UW has built a variety of contact lenses with small radios and antennas built in, enabling them to draw power as well as send and receive information through radio frequencies. Also, the UW team has been able to place a glucose sensor on the contact lens and demonstrate that it can detect glucose at levels that are found in the tear film. The goal is to unite these elements to develop a contact lens that constantly monitors the blood glucose level and records information that can be accessed later by the patient’s doctor.

    McFeely is hopeful that technology, like the functional contact lens, can improve the monitoring and care options available to his children. “Thinking about the functional contact lens for my children who are both type 1 diabetic—I think that would be incredible,” he said. “Given that my children are diagnosed at such a young age, it does have the potential to help them live a longer, healthier life.”

    Visualizing Future Applications

    Ideally, the lens will do more than just record information. The UW team envisions a way to automatically display important information—including abnormal glucose or insulin alerts—in the lens wearer’s view. It could alert the wearer when they should stop eating due to glucose levels, or remind them when it’s time to get a snack. This real-time feedback would empower the user to react quickly, avoiding health-threatening or uncomfortable episodes. The visual information would be dormant the rest of the time, adhering to the NUI idea of being unobtrusive until needed.

    Once fully developed, the technology could be used to replace virtually any screening or diagnostics that currently depend upon blood draws. Additionally, the researchers who are involved in the project envision a future in which contact lenses deliver medicine directly into the bloodstream through the cornea.

    Kristin Tolle, Director, Natural User Interface, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Debugger Canvas released on Devlabs

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    In June 2011, Microsoft released Debugger Canvas on DevLabs, the result of a year-long collaboration between Microsoft Research, the Microsoft Visual Studio product team, and Brown University. Debugger Canvas transforms how software developers use and experience their programming environments.

    In a traditional programming environment, a developer views code like most people view the web: by hopping from document to document, following link after link, with many documents opened in tabs across the top of the screen. Just like hyperactive web surfers, developers often get “lost in the tabs,” struggling to find (and re-find!) information that is relevant to their tasks. Debugger Canvas replaces these tabbed documents with a pan-and-zoom presentation of the specific source code that is relevant to the task. This keeps all of the necessary pieces together in one place, eliminating a lot of disorienting navigation steps.

    Debugger Canvas is the result of a bit of serendipity. At last summer’s International Conference on Software Engineering, two separate teams—one from Microsoft Research and one from Brown University—each presented a paper about redesigning programming environments. The two teams quickly discovered each other, found many points of overlap between their designs, and decided to join forces and combine the best of both designs. With support from Microsoft Research Connections, we pulled together a team from Microsoft Research, Brown University, and the Visual Studio product team. The goal was to create a “power tool” (that is, an experimental extension) for Visual Studio that enables professional developers across the world to try out these new ideas. The result: Debugger Canvas.

    The initial public reaction to Debugger Canvas has been overwhelmingly positive both on Twitter and in the comments area of blog posts that are discussing the tool. (One of my favorite tweets: “Thank you Debugger Canvas http://bit.ly/ls7zgn I found the error in secs after I installed you.”)

    Up next: the collaborative team is currently adding enhancements based on user feedback, as well as scheduling interviews with active users to learn how they are using the tool. That feedback, plus other input and personal observations, will inform our next release of the tool.

    Arjmand Samuel, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections, and Rob Deline, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research

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    Top Students Descend on Microsoft Research Cambridge

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    With the academic year drawing to a close, Microsoft Research Cambridge was delighted to welcome more than 60 doctoral students for the sixth PhD Summer School at the end of June 2011. Participants came from as far afield as Israel and Russia, numerous European countries, and locales across the UK. It was also a pleasure to host students from Cambridge Computer Laboratory, just across the road.


    More than 60 PhD students converge on Microsoft Research Cambridge.

    More than 60 PhD students converge on Microsoft Research Cambridge. (Volodymyr Kuznetsov, Enuo He, Sadia Ahmed, Georgios Varisteas, Varun Bhaskar Kothamachu, Hannah Smith, Andrej Mikulik, Larissa Pschetz, David Kim, Su-Yang Yu, Michal Ficek, Gian Marco Palamara, Peter Wortmann, Nicolas Mobilia, Davide Cacchiarelli, Niek Bouman, Petra Korica-Pehserl, Timothy Rudge, Dmitri Kornev, Gjata Nerta, Christine Rizkallah, Mohamed Amir Yosef, Evgeny Rodionov, Yury Tumanov, Fidaa Abed, Milovan Duric, Ivan Ratkovic, Anastasia Tugaenko, Milan Stanic, Yaniv Ben-Itzhak, Faraz Makari Manshadi, Maximilian Dylla, Sergiy Byelozyorov, Alexander Chigorin, Syama Sundar Rangapuram, Sergey Milyaev, Roman Shapovalov, Evgeny Novikov, Vladimir Kononov, Gleb Krivovyaz, Sergey Shveykin, Pavel Shved, Silke Jansen, Stepan Kuznetsov, Dmitry Laptev, Moshe Gabel, Victor Chernyshov, Ariella Voloshin, Dmitry Ivankov, Jan Margeta, Jiaxin Han, Quan Guo, Madhura Killedar, Michelle Furlong, Edoardo Tescari, Zhen Bai, Lech Swirski, Andra Adams, Steven Marsh)

    This annual event provides an opportunity for some of the brightest graduate students to come together at the Microsoft Research Cambridge lab for a week of immersive technical talks, personal development sessions, and socialising. Representing 32 universities and institutes, the participants are working on a wide range of subjects, from how to program a million-core neural computer and parallel operating systems, to cloud computing and machine learning. Although most are computer science students, others are studying subjects as diverse as Amazonian road networks and cosmology.

    An extensive range of technical talks by Microsoft researchers provided insights into the whole spectrum of work at the Cambridge lab, including research on computer science as applied philosophy, parallel software, machine learning for Kinect, social computing, medical imaging, functional programming, computational ecology, and computing to cure cancer. Moshe Gabel, a participant from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, was impressed, noting that “the Summer School really opened my eyes to the amazing range of sub-fields in computer science”.


    Christine Rizkallah, from the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft Institute in Germany, explains her research over lunch to lab researchers.

    Christine Rizkallah, from the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft Institute in Germany, explains her research over lunch to lab researchers.

    The lawn marquee provided an opportunity for the students to showcase their research to the dozens of Microsoft researchers who swarmed around their posters, asking probing questions and giving advice over lunch. Seventeen of our new Microsoft PhD scholars, funded through Microsoft Research Connections, had the opportunity to meet with their Microsoft co-supervisors—just one way that our programme enables close collaboration between students and Microsoft.

    A key goal of the week was to facilitate personal development, with deep-dive sessions on such topics as “How to Write a Great Research Paper and Give a Great Talk,” by Simon Peyton-Jones, and “A Rough Guide to Being an Entrepreneur,” by Jack Lang, from the Judge Business School at Cambridge University. These sessions had wide appeal; as Jiaxin Han from Durham University observed, “As a non-computer science student, I’ve also benefited a lot from general guidance on PhD study, as well as gaining a 3-D view of Microsoft”.

    The Summer School provides a fantastic opportunity for the next-generation of technology leaders to interact with the researchers at Microsoft Research Cambridge, and for Microsoft Research—and, more specifically, the Microsoft Research Connections group—to provide a window into what we do. Many of the students were impressed with the wide latitude given to Microsoft researchers. Seeing projects like Worldwide Telescope and Microsoft Academic Search made me realise that Microsoft gives its researchers some freedom in working on interesting projects that are not directly related to their mainstream products,” explained Christine Rizkallah, from the Max Planck Institute.

    For the lab, it is a source of inspiration and pride to be working with such talented young individuals, who are the future of science and computing. We’re already looking forward to next year’s PhD Summer School in Cambridge!

    Scarlet Schwiderski-Grosche, Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA, and Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA

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