MSIH Professor Noah Liel-Cohen: Bridging the Gap between High Tech and Low Resource Settings
“8400 adopted the naming convention from the 8200 unit of Israel’s elite cyber intelligence corps,” explains Prof. Noah Liel-Cohen, newly-appointed coordinator of MSIH’s 4th year curriculum. “We are a network of Israeli leaders in every field of human endeavour that’s levering our combined knowledge and skills to advance and expand the country’s HealthTech ecosystem. As one of the second cohort to join 8400, I’ve been involved more or less from the beginning.”
In June 2020, Dr. Liel retired from her position as Head of the Echocardiography Unit at Soroka University Medical Center and is now gearing up for the next stage of her fascinating career – much of it involving MSIH.
“I’ve been coordinator of the fourth-year international clerkships since 2015, but now that I have more time, I aim to get more involved.”
Introducing Echocardiography to low income countries
Before her involvement with MSIH, Dr. Liel had taken a sabbatical in Nepal, introducing echocardiography to a public hospital in the country. Since then, as head of the 4th year clerkships, she has visited India, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, and Peru.
“MSIH fosters a genuine relationship with its sites and as we focus on cross-cultural medicine, we need to see and understand their medical and health environments.”
Interest in LIC (Low Income Countries) medical settings seems incongruous with Prof. Liel’s professional experience. For most of her working life, she’d been at the forefront of cardiology and medical technology – a skill that evolved through her work with cardiac echo machines.
“Non-invasive cardiology diagnostics techniques like ultrasound progressed greatly during my career,” she explains. “At the beginning, interpretation of echos was done by the eye of the specialist, but I could see the potential for using technology to help in diagnosis.”
In 2007, she supervised a Master’s Thesis of a BGU Electrical Engineering student that explored automating left ventricle analysis from echo.
Artificial Intelligence and Automatic Echo Interpretation
“On the basis of the research, we founded Dia-Analysis, a company that continues to develop software to automatically quantify echo imaging. We started with left ventricle ejection fraction – until then done mainly by a visual interpretation – and automated the process using image-processing techniques. Today the company has moved on to use Deep Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Neural Networking.”
Third Cohort at BGU
Noah Liel graduated from the Third intake of Ben-Gurion University’s medical school in 1983. She did a research fellowship studying coagulation processes in basic science laboratories at the Medical University of South Carolina with Prof. P.V. Halushka (1986-88), and then another fellowship in echo at Massachusetts General Hospital from 1996-98. In 1998 she returned to Israel to lead the echolab team at Soroka. While working as a clinical physician in the hospital, she continued her research work and also initiated a multi-center Israeli research group in echocardiography.
Inexpensive Devices for Low-Income Medical Settings
“Last year MSIH introduced an initiative to utilize inexpensive and open source technologies to produce simple, and effective devices for low-income medical scenarios,” she explains. “Until now I’d perceived technology as something used in modern medicine and it hadn’t occurred to me that inexpensive solutions could be used to help underprivileged populations too.”
In the project MSIH students introduced the low-income medical problem to students of Biomedical Engineering, and the latter worked on solutions – consulting with the MSIH students for clinical/medical reference.
“I saw the interaction and understood that this has huge potential – considering my background and involvement in 8400 project.”
“For my entire career I’d been going to academic conferences in the US,” Noah explains. “I was looking for something different, and MSIH gave me the opportunity to see a side of medicine that few of my colleagues had ever been exposed to. It’s absolutely fascinating to see how physicians work in resource-scarce settings. Despite my med-tech background, I’ve learned so much from them during my visits. They do many things differently – but they have outstanding clinical abilities, providing amazing care with very limited resources.”
Dr. Liel now wants to see how her efforts at 8400 can be combined with her knowledge of Global Health to invent less costly solutions to help mange patients in low-income settings.
“The coronavirus emergency is a perfect example,” she explains. “Within days of the pandemic being declared, the international medical community was fearful they didn’t have enough ventilators. The situation was much worse in low-income countries where they knew they couldn’t afford them anyway. Almost overnight a movement of open-source technologists started working on simple, inexpensive ventilators. Today there are several projects on the go – and that’s just a single device. This type of initiative could help solve many Global Health problems that many of us don’t even know exist.”
Israel Society for Healthtech
Recently, with a small group of physicians from 8400, Dr. Liel established the Israel Society for Healthtech within the Israel Medical Association. The inaugural conference took place in July of 2020. The Society aims to fill the gap between physicians and the biomed industry and enhance their relationship.
Seeking Recognition for Sonographers
Throughout her career, Noah Liel always supported women’s rights and felt they are not properly appreciated in the Israeli medical profession.
“Diagnostic medical sonographers are an example,” she says. “Mostly women, they don’t get nearly the recognition they deserve for the huge responsibility they carry. I’m working to finally create a recognized academic track for them.”
Prof. Liel is excited about the new phase she’s moving into. “Israel is a place that encourages entrepreneurship and new ideas, and I’m looking forward to bringing together my knowledge and experience to help communities around the world. MSIH is the perfect place to do it because we understand low-income medical settings and we have the support of an amazing university. Everything is now lined up and I’m ready to move forward.”