The Science Behind Simulations: Injecting New Possibilities into the Medical Field
A young nurse, no older than 25, extends her trembling hand - ready to inject you with a needle. You squirm away, not comforted by the fact that the first person she is performing this procedure on is you. Although this may sound like an unlikely scenario from a nightmare, many medical students complete their initial trials, like injections, on living humans. While medical simulators exist on the market, many are outrageously expensive and do not accurately mirror the anatomical and physiological characteristics of humans. A team of bioengineering undergraduates is currently working to redesign medical simulators, and ultimately improve the care given to future patients.
The Creative Inquiry team, under the guidance of Dr. Delphine Dean, is attempting to radically change the world of medical simulators. The group's undertakings include reverse engineering of existing models to determine current problems, as well as creating new devices and improving older ones through the addition of new technology. The team is looking to build simulators that are more accurate at mimicking the responses of the human body, while remaining inexpensive and user friendly.
Many procedures performed on humans are risky and can cause various complications. By using these simulators, caregivers will be able to practice medical techniques in a low stress environment. This removes many dangers that trial patients face today.
The team is currently focusing on the central venous catheterization (CVC) simulator. During a CVC, drugs are inserted into a person's heart using a catheter tube that enters one of the large veins in the neck. According to an article from the New England Journal of Medicine, physicians perform more than 5 million CVC procedures in America every year.
Of these, more than 15% result in complications that cost as much as a combined $2.17 billion per year.
This Creative Inquiry team has designed a CVC simulator that includes a rotatable head, a platform, and a puncture pad that resembles flesh and includes all of the correct bones and vasculature. This new technology will help physicians improve their techniques in a low risk environment. The doctors aren't the only ones that are learning something new. Basic teamwork was essential amongst the undergraduates on this project in order to accomplish their goals. Many top students are able to handle entire group assignments on their own, without delegating tasks to other members. However, with a project this size, students needed to learn each other's strengths and rely on their teammates to follow through with every task. Eventually, this led to a delicate balance of trust and hard work, important skills that every college student should learn before graduating. A junior undergraduate student on the team, Nadine Luedicke, explained that, "Being a part of a CI is a hands-on educational experience completely different than any class room experience. Learning is fast paced, individual, and not restricted."
In addition to creating medical simulators, the team was able to experience entrepreneurship first-hand as they developed their own business and applied for a patent on their project. Molly Townsend, a senior student on the team, stated, "This has given me a leg-up on the rest of my competitors when I graduate, understanding not only the engineering aspects of a problem, but also the business, legal, and financial aspects." This Creative Inquiry provided a way for students to step outside of their typical boundaries and delve into other areas of study.
Luedicke noted, "I have been pleasantly surprised that along the way I have learned so much about networking, business plans, finding donors, and the intellectual property process."
The team has been presenting their work at career and entrepreneurship conferences over the past few years. In December 2010 they were awarded $200 at the SCLaunchPad competition. They also placed 3rd for their poster at the SouthEast Biomedical Engineering Career Conference in Fall 2010.
Finally, in July 2011, they submitted a provisional patent for the final project design. The team was able to unite over these achievements, as well as develop a sense of pride and attachment to their project. When discussing her experiences at the conferences, Luedicke stated, "Suddenly the project was no longer just boring lab work, but a living entity that needed to be protected, promoted, and modified to grow successfully."
Through this Creative Inquiry project, the students have learned in-depth bioengineering techniques, developed fundamental teamwork abilities, and broadened their skills into entrepreneurship. Townsend captured the team's spirit best by saying, "When I graduate in the spring, I will have two patents, a paper, and a company under my belt. How many undergraduates can boast the same?"