LEWISBURG, Pa. – In one of the more common procedures at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, doctors inject fluids into patients' blood vessels to assess blood flow.
The fluids and contrast dye are channeled through tubes, or catheters, and sometimes air bubbles form. The bubbles can be harmful, in some cases causing damage not unlike an aneurism, which is why doctors keep close watch to ensure the bubbles do not enter the body. Their methods are, however, cumbersome and far from foolproof.
"Currently, the method is to manually check the tubing and physically flick to get the bubbles out. It's kind of a medieval process," said Anna Latimer, a fourth-year biomedical engineering major at Bucknell University.
Latimer and fellow graduating seniors Alex Radebaugh, Kate Burke and Rob Littlefield have been working for the past eight months with Geisinger cardiologist Dr. Kim Skelding to find a better solution to the catheter bubble problem. As their senior design project, a graduation requirement, the team developed a device to divert fluid and filter out air before it reaches the catheter, greatly reducing the likelihood that air bubbles will enter the body.
Three-year partnership This is the third year Bucknell biomedical engineering students have partnered with Geisinger on their senior design projects to find solutions to real medical problems. Four other biomedical engineering teams developed devices with Geisinger mentors and faculty advisers for use in general surgery, orthopedics, DNA research and urology. The students displayed their projects during a design exposition Tuesday in the Dana engineering building at Bucknell.
Geisinger officials filed paperwork this week reserving the right to pursue further development and possibly a patent for the air bubble device as well as for a device to suck out blood clots from tubing for surgical drains, said Eric Kennedy, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and one of the team advisers. Hospital officials are considering doing the same for the other projects.
Each biomedical engineering team was partnered with a doctor, whom they observed in surgery during the fall semester, to identify potential problems and areas for improvement. The teams worked with Assistant Professor Joe Tranquillo, Professor Bill King, Kennedy and biomedical engineering department chair Dan Cavanagh to draft contracts with the hospital, giving intellectual rights to Geisinger in exchange for the experience of developing real medical devices. The spring semester was devoted to building physical prototypes and testing to perfect the design.
The partnership is beneficial to the students and to Geisinger, said Dr. Glenn Gerhard, who has been working with Bucknell students for the past three years.
"We don't have this ability. We can't build anything," Gerhard said. "To have eager students and brilliant engineers helping us is great. We're over there doing this business and we think, 'If only we could solve this problem.'"
The projects also can lead to careers in biomedical engineering and medicine. Senior Kate Burke is going to work for a pharmaceutical company after graduation. And senior Chris Gabryluk is going to Cornell for a master’s program in developing medical devices.
This year, Gerhard was the mentor to students Allison McKendry, Megan Peterson and Thomas Shepard, who were working on a mechanism to allow laboratory technicians to extract clots from blood samples taken at the hospital so they may analyze DNA. The information from the blood samples would be used for research purposes, to isolate which part of DNA is affected by certain diseases.
This device uses vacuum pressure to suck out clots from the gel in blood sample vials, Shepard said.
"Geisinger receives tubes from blood samples and usually throws them out," Shepard said. "They want to remove the clots from the tube so they can cut them up and look at different samples."
Gerhard previously worked with a team developing a device for screening for drugs using zebra fish. That device now is used in the Geisinger lab, and it is patented, he said. Last year, a senior design team developed a way to collect DNA from the saliva of babies with a "DNA binky" or pacifier.
A device to reduce infections Another team, including seniors Nate Crosby, Liz Banerjee and Stephanie Beeman, observed Dr. David Sheldon in surgery before deciding to develop another device to remove clots – this time from surgical drains. Such drains are used to release fluid, relieve pressure and reduce the possibility of infection as wounds heal after surgery, Crosby said. The device encompasses a syringe to suck out clots from drain tubing, allowing doctors to keep the drains in longer thus decreasing the likelihood of infection.
"It's a relatively simple problem but hard to solve," Crosby said. "If you're not able to get a clot out, you either have to strip the drain manually or pull the drain out. You can't replace the drain. Once it's out, it's out."
Single-port access Joseph Lee, Courtney Shanney and Jenell Smith worked with Dr. Brant Fulmer on a device to allow for single-port access during laparoscopic surgery. Surgeons typically make three to six incisions in the abdomen, Shanney said. The single-port device will make the procedures less invasive and allow surgeons to insert several different instruments with increased mobility.
The mechanism essentially is a collapsible cylinder that contracts and expands like an umbrella in the abdomen. The device, which includes a gel membrane, allows several instruments to be inserted rather than one at a time.
Measuring bone quality Eric Nguyen, Gabryluk, Jessica Levy and Sarah Wohlman worked with Dr. Tom Bowen, an orthopedic surgeon, on a device to measure bone quality. The students developed a mechanism that looks like a large plastic gun to insert and remove guide wire from bones during orthopedic surgeries. They tested the device on bones collected from a local butcher.
The current method for measuring bone density is to insert a guide wire into the bone. Surgeons remove the guide wire with "gloves and a mallet," putting a lot of pressure and strain on the bone, Nguyen said.
"This device makes it easier to get the guide wire out. You also can get a measure of osteoporosis," Nguyen said.
Bowen said the device could provide a more accurate measure of bone quality in osteoporosis patients during surgery.
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