Get to Know our Scientists – Dr. Sima Sobhiyeh
Dr. Sima Sobhiyeh, a postdoc at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, loves to travel, spend time in nature…oh, and build health screening software that could cut business costs by hundreds of millions of dollars.
After working at Pennington Biomedical for just a few short months, Dr. Sobhiyeh has already managed to secure an LSU LIFT2 grant to help commercialize the “Scanning in Medical Analysis (SIMA)” software. And it is no coincidence that this abbreviation also spells out her name.
With the help of Dr. Steven Heymsfield of Pennington Biomedical, Professor Peter Wolenski of LSU Mathematics, and a team of graduate students, Dr. Sobhiyeh built software that can accurately predict the inner workings of someone’s health just by scanning the outside of their body.
Once this software was built, Dr. Sobhiyeh put on her business hat to find her target market, a key element in acquiring the LSU LIFT2 grant. Originally, she believed fitness and fashion would be her niche market for this technology, but after visiting several gyms and boutiques, inner health was not what they were looking for after all.
“If you’re in the fitness or clothing industry, you mostly care about what’s on the outside, so a lot of the technology that already exists is good enough,” said Dr. Sobhiyeh. “But, when you get into the health industry, accuracy matters. What goes on inside your body is very important, so the machine learning and estimations we do, predicting what’s going on inside your body from the outside, becomes an important factor.”
With the wellness industry as her new focus, she identified an opportunity within businesses who use biometric screenings.
Biometric screenings are done in many companies to assess the health risk of those hired. Ideally, they are designed to reduce health plan costs since they give a baseline for the overall health of the group. If an individual is found to be “at-risk” for a chronic disease, they can take steps to prevent the onset of those diseases with proper diet and exercise. This prevention rather than treatment method can create significant savings for health plans.
Screenings typically start with a questionnaire to collect information on behavior and family history, then measure height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood glucose, and aerobic fitness tests to benchmark and find changes in the employee over time. In order to acquire the cholesterol and glucose data, nurses are hired to come in and draw blood and labs are paid to assess each sample, a costly process.
However, in less than five minutes, the SIMA software uses 3D scanners to measure outer body composition and pull from learned data to see if the employee needs to have their blood drawn in the first place. If the assessment indicates that the subject is not prone to high cholesterol levels or other risk factors, there is no need to take a blood sample.
“Businesses will spend an estimated $1.7 billion on health screenings in 2021,” said Dr. Sobhiyeh, “If our software can exempt even one out of five workers from the biometric screening, health screening costs could drop by as much as $340 million.”
According to Dr. Sobhiyeh, Pennington Biomedical is the ideal location for the development of this technology. With top scientists and healthcare professionals by her side, she is confident that the SIMA software will soon be the next big breakthrough in the wellness industry.