Written by Hannah Weems

Two student teams from the Department of Biomedical Engineering placed in the top three teams overall at the 2021 UAB Expo, winning second and third place for the submission of their senior design projects.

Each year, BME undergraduates have the opportunity to participate in the Expo, offered by Service Learning and Undergraduate Research, celebrating excellence in research, creative activity, and scholarship by showcasing students’ academic endeavors. The winning projects were created as part of BME's capstone senior design course, in which students are required to present a solution to a clinical problem provided by a client and then develop a functional prototype and a plan for product commercialization. They must follow guidelines such as adhering to a $400 design budget.

2021 student teamFour of the five members of the second-place team are shown here working on their prototype. Pictured are (from left) Russ Fuller, Lara Tapy, Jason Zhang, and Isabella Reed.Recent BME seniors Russ Fuller, Adam Luechtefeld, Isabella Reed, Lara Tapy, and Jason Zhang made up the team of student engineers named as second place winners for their collaborative senior design project submission, an intraoperative colorectal cancer tumor locator. The team’s design responded to the need for a more accurate and expeditious way for gastrointestinal surgeons to locate colorectal tumor margins intraoperatively in the presence of adipose tissue, resulting in a reduction in surgery time and an increase in the amount of bowel preserved. The team worked alongside Greg Kennedy, M.D., Ph.D., director, Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery, to develop the prototype.

The prototype’s design suspended metallic nanoparticles into a liquid that was injected into the topmost layer of colorectal tissue where it hardened due to an increase in temperature. The hardened consistency was achieved through the use of a sensitive hydrogel which can be detected by a laparoscopic metal detector to determine the presence of colorectal tumors. Testing of the prototype occurred on silicone models using a 10-gauge needle with the approval of Dr. Kennedy. The team has filled preliminary disclosure documents with the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in pursuit of a patent for their design. Each team member graduated with their bachelor’s degrees on Saturday, May 1 and is looking to the future. Fuller will begin his medical degree this summer at UAB; Leuchtefeld is considering a master’s degree in engineering from UAH; Reed has accepted a full-time position at Pennington Biomedical Research; Tapy will enter the regulatory and intellectual property side of the biomedical device industry; and Zhang will pursue his Ph.D from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in biological engineering.  

pediatric traction walker2021The UAB Expo’s third-place team, made up of recent BME undergraduates Amy Heerten, Chase Newton, and Ian Svantesson, developed a pediatric traction walker in response to the lack of halo gravity traction walkers for patients with severe scoliosis. Scoliosis of this nature is debilitating and is treated with halo gravity traction, a method of pulling the head and spine in a slow, upward stretch, accomplished by attaching a metal halo to a pulley system over a period of time. These walkers are not commercially available, so the team developed a pediatric traction walker allowing pediatric patients to have improved hospital mobility while reducing the risk of harm and preventing a lengthy implementation time. This team’s final prototype was created with adjustable handles to accommodate patient height; is welded from steel to prevent collapse; and is built with a gym weight system for accurate, safe, and reliable application of traction. The team’s problem was provided by Rhett Wheeler, P.T., D.P.T., director of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy at Children’s of Alabama. He was very pleased with the final design, saying, “I was particularly happy to see that the team fabricated something we can potentially utilize once a few modifications are made.”

This spring, 10 BME student teams presented senior design projects to their professors and peers on Friday, April 23 via Zoom. “All 10 groups did an excellent job,” says Dale Feldman, Ph.D., associate professor in BME. Their prototypes include a game controller attachment for children living with hand disabilities, an assistive device for unilateral pediatric hand weakness, a bite block for spinal surgery, exercise motivation for patients with dementia, mobility stimulation for children utilizing gait trainers, a therapeutic exoskeleton for patients with hand weakness, and a device for more accurate photogrammetry for maxillofacial prostheses.

The UAB Undergraduate Summer Expo will take place July 26-30, 2021. Participants will practice and strengthen their presentation skills, exchange research experience and ideas, and receive feedback from faculty and peers.

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