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Novak Receives 2021 BRIght Futures Prize

The BRIght Futures Prizes support investigators across the Brigham Research Institute (BRI) as they work to answer provocative questions or solve grand problems. The prize, which is supported philanthropically, and the work it sponsors, advance the mission of the BRI by accelerating the kind of innovative research that is only possible at an academic medical center, where basic researchers and clinicians work side by side. Among the recipients of the ninth BRIght Futures Prize, presented at the annual Research Appreciation Celebration on June 23, is Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital’s Director of Autonomic Laboratory Peter Novak, MD, PhD, who’s project received $50,000 to accelerate his innovations.

“The BRIght Futures Prize generates excitement and visibility for the BRI among the Brigham research community as well as external visibility for Brigham research and innovation–with patients, donors and the world,” says Jacqueline Slavik, PhD, MMSc, Executive Director of the BRI. “These awards are intended to help shape the future of innovation.”

Applications for the award were evaluated through an internal peer review process with finalists selected based on input from a Brigham review committee and recommendations from the BRI Executive Committee.

Dr. Novak’s project is titled “Using Smartphone Pictures to Diagnose Nerve Damage.” Here he explains his work.

What problem are you trying to solve?

Small fiber neuropathy, which affects the small nerve fibers in the skin, is a common condition that impacts millions of people. It can cause disabling pain, dizziness with standing, brain fog, fatigue, constipation, urinary problems and cold or hot intolerance. COVID-19 can also damage the nerves, which may make neuropathy even more common. Tests for this condition are expensive and available only in a few specialized centers. This project addresses the problem of limited availability of testing for small fiber neuropathy.

What is your solution and how will the BRIght Futures Prize allow you to pursue this?

My solution is to use machine learning/artificial intelligence to detect small fiber neuropathy remotely and virtually using skin pictures obtained by routine smartphones. Patients would take a photo on their smartphone and the app, using artificial intelligence, will detect abnormal skin textures associated with small fiber neuropathy. The BRIght Futures Prize will allow me to refine this approach and would fund the hours I need to complete this project.

How will your research project benefit people?

This project provides a solution for limited access to a particular type of health care–availability of a diagnostic test. Early and correct diagnosis of nerve damage is essential for effective treatment. If successful, the project may improve and increase access to health care for millions of people using available infrastructure (internet and smartphone).


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