Dr Ilaria Pozzato looks at health holistically. “My research was really influenced by my past life as a clinician,” she says
“I’ve always been fascinated by how people with similar injuries can have very different outcomes, and particularly how differences in people's physiology, and their response to the trauma of their injury, can influence their health and recovery.”
These days, Ilaria is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Sydney, investigating health outcomes and recovery of people with injury-related disabilities. “My project right now focuses on spinal cord injury,” she says, “we’re trying to test a new therapy to improve heart and brain function for those who have sustained a spinal cord injury.”
“Spinal cord injuries are life-changing, as you can imagine,” Ilaria says, “they bring with them a lot of different problems, and some of them are really life-threatening.
Besides the paralysis below the injury, people also end up with cardiovascular complications, instability in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, chronic pain, mental health problems, and so on.”
“Because what’s happening is a break in communication between the brain and the body,” she says, “you damage this very complex and intricate network of neural pathways regulating multiple systems. I focus on the autonomic nervous system, which is a system that not only regulates internal organ function but is also implicated in higher functions like cognition, attention, and emotional regulation.”
By targeting the autonomic nervous system with a breathing therapy that influences cardiovascular regulation, Ilaria believes her work may help to restore balance in the system and improve patient health and recovery overall. Her research requires monitoring over several different experimental phases, modulating the autonomic nervous system and then performing the regulated breathing therapy; so continuous measurement is key to quantifying the effects.
One of her main measures of autonomic nervous system function in people with spinal cord injury is blood pressure variability, which she records using a non-invasive continuous blood pressure monitor (NIBP).
“NIBP technology has dramatically changed the research landscape for autonomic and cardiovascular research, as well as clinical practice,” Ilaria says, “it’s the only system that allows continuous, non-invasive, long-duration blood pressure recording. And there is nothing out there that can replace this kind of system because the alternatives are either invasive, like inserted directly into an artery, or they’re intermittent and can’t capture those subtle, rapid changes we want to capture.”
Trying to quantify multisystem regulation, however, requires more than one physiological measure, including heart and brain measures. Having multiple systems running concurrently is technically very challenging, especially when you’re looking at multiple experimental phases. The basic act of trying to synchronize recording across multiple pieces of software can be a technical nightmare. Ilaria and her team are also working directly with people with spinal cord injuries; people who may be in pain, have limited mobility, or have other health considerations that may require certain accommodations in the lab. This variability is a normal part of life, but it can be difficult and time-consuming to build protocols around.
To streamline the technological aspects of the data collection, Ilaria worked alongside Nick Mackovski, our Technical Support Scientist in Australia. Together they worked out what Ilaria would need, and built custom functions within LabChart so that all of her data is collected in one place, simultaneously; no need to stress about synchronization, no need to stop or reset an experiment.
“For this type of multidisciplinary research, data collection can be quite complex,” Ilaria says, “and what you need is flexibility in the type of equipment and software you use for that collection; and I think that’s where LabChart really works well.”
“I think what I’ve learned is: yes, we’re running a laboratory, but we also have a person coming in and we need to be mindful of that. So, the less you fuss with getting your technology working, the more time and energy you have to focus on the patient which is really what this is about."
"It’s teamwork, and the patient is part of the team,” Ilaria says, “sometimes we tend to forget that because technology takes so much of our energy.”