May 21, 2010

Josh Douin '10 shows how a modified gurney accommodates morbidly obese patients during cardiac catheterization.

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By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Seniors in the biomedical engineering design course at Bucknell University are charged with creating devices to solve real-life issues that medical professionals face every day.

For the past four years, biomedical engineering seniors have worked with faculty advisors and physicians from Geisinger Medical Center and the Weis Center for Research in Danville to develop devices to better deliver care to patients in clinical areas such as interventional cardiology, orthopedics and urology. In previous years, several devices designed by the senior design teams have been further fine-tuned through the students' independent research projects.

This year, the projects included a modified gurney to support and maneuver morbidly obese patients during cardiac catheterization procedures, a hand-held device to allow orthopedic surgeons to more easily secure patients' broken bones while they repair them, an adjustable retractor to suspend the liver while urologists operate on the kidney and a syringe attachment to incrementally thaw blood samples to avoid DNA damage.

"The idea behind the senior design projects is to teach students the design process, from identifying a problem and coming up with possible solutions to fabricating, testing and redesigning," said Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Donna Ebenstein, who coordinated the capstone course this past semester. "They also talk to surgeons, doctors and medical professionals about challenges, use the skills they have gained from the biomedical engineering curriculum and learn new things."

Bringing it all together
The capstone course integrates information from various disciplines, helping the students build skills for their future careers. The students work with faculty advisors and physician and scientist mentors from Geisinger to develop their ideas and later identify potential problems. The teams presented their devices at a recent design exposition and will display the projects again Saturday during Bucknell's 160th Commencement weekend.

The partnership is beneficial to the students and to Geisinger, Ebenstein said. In the fall, the students and their faculty mentors draft contracts with the hospital, providing intellectual rights to Geisinger in exchange for the experience of developing real medical devices. The spring semester is devoted to building physical prototypes and testing to perfect the design.

Previous projects include a patented device for screening drug treatments for Lou Gehrig's disease using zebra fish and a "DNA binky," or pacifier, used to collect DNA from the saliva of babies.

This summer, four biomedical engineering juniors, Elliot Franz, G.W. Boon, Stephanie Bost and Megan Long, will continue work on two past design projects to try to further develop the devices. The design projects and the summer research are funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration.

Fixing broken bones
Seniors Jason Wong, Samantha Clark and Stefanie Hurowitz worked with Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Katie Bieryla and Dr. Thomas Bowen, an orthopedic surgeon from Geisinger, to develop a device to guide wire  into broken bones to temporarily hold them together.

The team got help from Bucknell's Product Development Laboratory to drill a hole through a thin, steel tube about 10- inches-long so the wire could fit through it, Ebenstein said. The process also required extensive research on government regulations, industry standards and testing for function, ergonomics and safety.

"Having the exposure to the design process, FDA regulations, and intellectual property will be invaluable experience," said Wong, who plans to pursue a master's degree in engineering management at Duke University after a summer internship with a pharmaceutical company.

Preserving DNA
Seniors Eric Orbison, Scott Ritrovato and Caroline Walsh worked with Assistant Professor of Biomedical and Electrical Engineering Joe Tranquillo and Weis Center scientist Dr. Glenn Gerhard to design a heated adaptor for extraction of frozen blood samples.

Their device heats the surface of the sample and extracts the thawed blood into the syringe, leaving the rest of the sample frozen.

Suspending the liver
Seniors Justin Honovich, Matthew Means and Martin Ton worked with Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering James Baish and urologist Dr. Joel Sumfest on a mechanically expandable laparoscopic liver retraction device.

The students first tried a "double umbrella" design, but the device took up too much space and would have interfered with the kidney operation. They settled on a straight design that when inserted through the laparoscopic port could be maneuvered into an L-shape.

Trouble shooting
Seniors Allison Hoch, Josh Douin and Marjorie Blaskower worked with Ebenstein and interventional cardiologist Dr. Kim Skelding on modifying a gurney to work with existing equipment to support morbidly obese patients during catheterization procedures.

Among the challenges the students faced were finding a material strong enough to support patients' heads -- they settled on Plexiglas -- and finding washable straps that could attach the gurney securely to the catheterization laboratory table without interfering with X-rays, Hoch said.

"The problem wasn't clear-cut," Hoch said. "We had to get information from various sources, including doctors and other medical professionals."

Dan Cavanagh, chair of the biomedical engineering department, said the projects in some ways are like the students' first jobs.

"The students are responsible for managing every aspect and working with external experts," he said. "I always tell the students that their efforts on these projects should not be driven by a grade or making a professor happy. Instead, their hard work should be motivated by fulfilling the mission of biomedical engineering, which is to solve important clinical problems while helping people through improved healthcare technologies." 

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