Fifty years of Biomedical Engineering and Collaboration New Perspectives on What's Possible

The Biomedical Engineering department formally became a joint department of the U-M College of Engineering and the Medical School in 2012, just five years before celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017. But the spirit and impact of the collaboration that spurred its founding five decades ago continue at an ever-increasing pace today.

At the heart of the Department’s many collaborative efforts lie clinicians’ desire to offer new and better solutions to their patients and engineers’ passion for applying their knowledge to solve important health and medical problems.

Take Jacqueline Jeruss, MD, PhD, a surgical oncologist who treats benign and malignant breast disease. An investigator focused on breast cancer biology, she’s also an associate professor of BME. “Once a patient becomes metastatic, that’s when what I as a surgeon can offer to patients falls into the background.”

That disheartening situation led Jeruss to ask, “If I can’t help these patients anymore through my surgical practice, what can I do in the lab?”

The answer: Quite a lot. Jeruss works with William and Valerie Hall Chair and Professor Lonnie Shea (the two also are married) to better understand the cellular changes that lead to metastasis and to devise new methods for detection.

Drs. Jeruss, Shea, and other collaborators have been working to engineer pre-malignant niche sites – areas in other parts of the body that are “primed” to shelter and nurture metastatic cancer cells. Engineered niches offer opportunities to observe how and where cancer cells travel, paving the way for new detection systems and therapies to thwart the process.

What enables such collaboration? “The real opportunity here is having a top-10 engineering school and a top-10 medical school co-located,” Shea says.

“Michigan is very unique in that it’s an incredibly collaborative environment, not just within a department or division but across the schools and colleges,” adds Dr. William Roberts. “It’s very simple and easy to pick up the phone and call someone in BME, talk about a problem and start to develop a research relationship.”

“It’s very simple and easy to pick up the phone and call someone in BME, talk about a problem and start to develop a research relationship.”William Roberts M.D.

Foundation of collaboration

The seeds of collaboration between what is today the BME department and the U-M Medical School were sowed in the 1960s. At the time, faculty from both schools were already working together on joint projects such as nuclear imaging, prosthetics, and signal processing in neurons.

Other early research included electrophysiological studies by Daniel Green that informed our understanding of how humans see in changing light. The work of Clyde Owings, who held appointments in both Pediatrics and BME, led to specialized medical care of abused children, including through the Child Abuse and Neglect Clinical and Teaching Services program he established.

A testament to the many joint projects between the Bioengineering Program and the Medical School, during a difficult time for the Program in the late 1970s, two Bioengineering faculty with Medical School appointments launched a letter-writing campaign. More than 20 distinguished faculty from nearly a dozen medical specialties responded by sharing their strong support.

Among the many fruitful research efforts of that era were development of the “spherocentric knee,” an early ball-in-socket, rather than hinge, design that more closely imitated typical human knee motion by David Sonstegard, Herbert Kaufer, and Larry Matthews. Groundbreaking work by Dr. Robert Bartlett on a new system – extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – provided life support to infants and children with acute respiratory failure. The now famous “Michigan probe,” a multi-channel neural probe still widely used in brain research, was developed by Kensall Wise and David Anderson.

Seeking opportunities

Further cementing collaboration in the early 1990s, then Bioengineering Program Director Charles Cain encouraged faculty from the College and the Medical School to propose joint research to the Whitaker Foundation. Their efforts resulted in a Special Opportunity Award in 1994.

Building on its success, two years later the newly formed BME department – thanks in no small part to Cain’s continued efforts – won a $3 million Whitaker Foundation Development Award to support its growth and continued collaborative work.

Research at the time included co-development of gene-activated matrix technology for wound repair by Steven Goldstein and Jeffrey Bonadio and in situ tissue engineering, which has become an important research technology. Work by Lawrence Schneider on the biomechanics of automotive injuries has led to improved crash-test dummy design and vehicle occupant safety, and advances in ultrasound and multimodal imaging by Paul Carson have led to improved imaging safety and effectiveness.

Creating a sustainable and translational model

With the aim of advancing promising joint engineering and medical research projects from the laboratory to market to clinical settings, in 2005, the Department won a $5 million Wallace H. Coulter Foundation Translational Research Partnership Award, one of only nine universities in the country to do so.

Matthew O’Donnell, BME chair from 1999 to 2006, was thrilled about the award. As he said in the Department’s history, Biomedical Engineering at Michigan: A Product of Vision and Persistence, “…how wonderful, especially for our junior faculty, to be exposed to a world where you don’t just write papers, you put out a device or process or new molecule that people will actually use in the clinic.” The program provided funding for four collaborative clinician-engineer teams in its first year alone.

Four BME department chairs gather for the 50th-anniversary celebration in September 2017. Left to Right: Doug Noll, Charles Cain, Lonnie Shea, and Matt O’Donnell. Photo: Brandon Baier.

Five years later, given its strong track record, U-M received an endowment through the U-M Coulter Partnership for Translational Biomedical Engineering Research. This time, U-M was one of only six universities nationwide to receive the $10 million endowment, with an additional $10 million in matching funds from the College of Engineering and the Medical School.

Coulter projects have led to impressive results, including 14 start-up companies that will no doubt have a positive impact on patients. For example, Charles Cain, J. Brian Fowlkes, Timothy Hall, William Roberts, and Zhen Xu have been developing a non-invasive ultrasonic technique to treat severe congenital heart disease in newborns as well as many other conditions.

“It was an organic thing that evolved,” said Cain, founding BME chair, of his and other long-standing collaborations. “There were [clinical] problems that needed a solution.”

Ever-increasing breadth, depth and impact

Since the early 2000s, collaborative research has expanded continuously. Other game-changing work over the past two decades includes:

  • Intravascular diagnostic ultrasound techniques to detect lipid pools within atherosclerotic plaque by Matthew O’Donnell.
  • Improved functional MRI techniques for brain imaging to improve speed and reduce distortion by Douglas Noll.
  • Advances in image reconstruction for multiple imaging modalities and a low-dose CT scan method that reduces radiation exposure by Jeffrey Fessler.
  • Mechanistic studies to improve ultrasound diagnostics and therapies, including drug and gene delivery by Cheri Deng.
  • Development of optical molecular imaging and diagnostics, including a new optical spectroscopy method to diagnose pancreatic cancer by Mary-Ann Mycek.
  • Creation of a “5-D protein fingerprint” by David Sept and Michael Mayer to provide insights into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Development of modular micro-tissues and biomaterials that direct cell phenotype in order to regenerate bone, cartilage, and blood vessels by Jan Stegemann.

Education to support collaboration and innovation

Enhancements to the BME curriculum over the years are ensuring students receive the training to follow in the footsteps of so many interdisciplinary engineering and medical researchers. Several design courses round out the common BME core. These include Biomedical Instrumentation & Design (BME 458), in which students design an instrument to take electrophysiological measurements, Biotechnology and Human Values (ENG 100), in which students design a new diagnostic test, and the senior capstone design course, BME 450, in which students design and test a prototype for actual stakeholders.

Broadening “bench to beside” translation, the design curriculum has been further bolstered with a year-long graduate course, BME 599, created by Aileen Huang-Saad to expose students to the full innovation process, including commercialization. Rachael Schmedlen introduced a year-long senior capstone design course (BME 451/452) and a clinical-needs-finding course (BME 499). Andrew Putnam created a new course in computer modeling in design (BME 350).

The Department also launched a new medical product development master’s concentration in 2015. Headed by Jan Stegemann, the program was designed to teach students how not only to design a medical device but to address the many regulatory, intellectual property and reimbursement-related factors involved in successfully bringing new products to a competitive market.

In addition, 2015 brought new clinical immersion and experiential learning opportunities to students through greater support for device prototyping, a collaboration with the Medical School’s Clinical Simulation Center, a Clinical Peer Mentors program and the Medical Device Sandbox. All offer the chance for BMEs and medical students and clinicians to work together – ultimately toward improved patient care and safety.

A novel “instructional incubator” course, launched by Huang-Saad in 2016 continues to build on the collaborative nature of biomedical engineering practice by having students themselves create several new short courses. Courses piloted in 2017 included 3D printing and prototype development, biological signaling in neural tissue, and computational modeling for drug development (See the related story: BME-in-Practice: Iterative curriculum design).

Cameron Louttit instructs students.
BME student Cameron Louttit instructs students on proper pipetting technique in Building a Tumor, an Introduction to Tissue Engineering.

Poised for a new era

With 12 new faculty hires in the past three years, BME is well positioned to address both intractable and new health and medical challenges with a next-generation arsenal that includes precision health (molecular imaging and diagnostics, gene and drug delivery, and histotripsy), data analytics (systems biology and multiscale modeling) and regenerative medicine (brain-machine interfaces, immune therapeutics, cell transplantation).

Explore all of the BME research by area, clinical application, or technology used.

In this last area, BME’s David Kohn is co-leading U-M’s Regenerative Medicine Collaborative, comprised of more than 150 faculty across campus. The groundswell recalls BME’s earliest days, when the department was a burgeoning program, its growth and stature fueled by a vision that blurred disciplinary boundaries. The momentum continues, offering clinicians, engineers, and students alike the opportunity to improve lives.

Dr. Parag Patil is a neurosurgeon who works closely with BME’s Cindy Chestek on brain-machine interfaces and welcomes those opportunities. “Engineering helps because when I’m doing my clinical work, I’m always thinking about ways to make things better,” he says.

Zhen Xu, too, is excited by the prospect of opportunity and change. “I hope one day we can tell patients that we can actually remove your blood clots or remove your tumor noninvasively,” she says.

And Dr. Jeruss describes the “renewed sense of optimism about what I can offer to patients. One of the most wonderful things that’s come out of this whole process for me is a new perspective on what’s possible for us to do in our lifetime.”

“One of the most wonderful things that’s come out of this whole process for me is a new perspective on what’s possible for us to do in our lifetime.”Jacqueline Jeruss, M.D., Ph.D.


BME-in-Practice: Iterative curriculum design

Incubators are common among entrepreneurs to nurture and develop a new product, application, or business idea. Assistant Professor Aileen Huang-Saad is also applying the concept to biomedical engineering practice – and to engineering education – through a novel “instructional incubator” and series of short, experiential courses.

The goal of the instructional incubator is multifaceted: To expose undergraduate and graduate students to diverse career opportunities in and outside academia and, for those who are considering academic careers, to help them gain teaching and curriculum development skills. Employers, too, benefit from BME job candidates who have acquired a set of capabilities rare among BME programs.

“Colleges and universities are realizing the growing need to train a workforce that is innovative and entrepreneurial-minded,” says Huang-Saad, the Department’s first tenure-track faculty member in engineering education who also co-founded the College of Engineering Center for Entrepreneurship. “many programs are more broadly emphasizing hands-on, team- and problem-based learning to increase student engagement and development.”

“Colleges and universities are realizing the growing need to train a workforce that is innovative and entrepreneurial-minded”

Aileen Huang-Saad

Huang-Saad was inspired in part by her own non-traditional path, leaving academia to work in industry and returning as teaching faculty. Along the way, she observed plenty of changes —

limited numbers of faculty positions, increased competition for funding, and many BME and other engineering students who don’t necessarily want to move into more traditional faculty positions. “We need to prepare them to for a multitude of careers, not just academic research,” she says.

Material synthesis

Many students agree, reporting that finding jobs can be challenging and, once they do begin working, they notice a gap between what they’ve learned in school and industry needs and expectations.

Huang-Saad believes the gap in part results from the fact that “students have to take many courses in other disciplines – physics, math, biology, for example – before they take ‘BME’ courses.” Often, that’s not until their junior year. “And then we have limited time to help them synthesize and integrate all of that material and learn about the actual field of BME. We’re not doing as well as we could be,” she says.

Committed to transforming how engineering programs teach, Huang-Saad wanted to do something to bring more hands-on courses to the first- and second-year program. Yet, the facts remain: Faculty tend to come from varied disciplines, often outside of BME, and many have never worked in industry or been mentored as instructors. Few have experience guiding students through the project-based, interactive courses that might provide an edge in the job market.

The situation led her to ask an important question: How do we get discipline-based engineering faculty – faculty who trained as engineers – to understand more about student learning so that they can impact engineering education? “How do we capitalize on the wealth of talent we have here at the university right now?” she asks.

Capitalizing on the wealth of talent

The answer, at least in part, lies in the new incubator course (BME 499/599), in which junior and senior undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs, and faculty conceive of new first- and second-year courses. These one-credit “BME-in-Practice” courses help synthesize BME material and impart important professional engineering skills.

The incubator, first taught in Fall 2017, teaches students about learning, including learning theories, pedagogy, instructional design, constraints when developing curricula, and more. For their final project, student teams develop a curriculum for a one-credit experiential course for first- and second-year students. The following semester, incubator participants, a.k.a. “apprentices,” are given the opportunity to teach the courses they’ve developed.

The resulting courses, developed in Fall 2017 included:

  • Introduction to Neural Engineering and Modeling
  • Building a Tumor, an Introduction to Tissue Engineering
  • Introduction to Medical Product Design Iteration and Validation
  • Introduction to Medical Product Design, Prototyping and Testing (previously titled: Design “Crash” Course: Computer-Aided Design, Rapid Prototyping, and Failure Analysis)
  • Biomechanical Design and Rapid Prototyping
  • Computational Cell Signaling: Roadmap to Drug Development

Three of the six courses were taught in the 2018 winter semester.

Introduction to Medical Product Design, Prototyping and Testing
Introduction to Medical Product Design, Prototyping and Testing (previously titled: Design “Crash” Course: Computer-Aided Design, Rapid Prototyping, and Failure Analysis) taught by Erik Thomas and Madhu Parigi setup a prototype crash test for the first and second year engineering students in the class.

Offering the courses in a one-credit format enabled students to more easily fit one or more into their already heavy first- and second-year schedules. “Having these students participate in BME courses sooner helps them develop a cohort, a community, and get a better sense of what they can do with a BME degree,” says Huang-Saad.

First-year student Raahul Ravi took two of the new short courses, Introduction to Neural Engineering and Introduction to Tissue Engineering, with the aim of gaining “more Biomedical Engineering experience early on in my undergraduate career. It would take several years for me to reach the point where I could take the full courses on these topics, so I signed up for these to see if the areas covered interest me,” he says.

They did. “Taking the incubator courses has shown me more of what a professional in Neural engineering and Tissue/Tumor Engineering studies and works on. I’m still on the fence about what I want to do after undergrad – grad school, work in industry, etc. – but I know much more about the different career fields open to me with my education in BME after taking them,” he adds.

“Taking the incubator courses has shown me more of what a professional in Neural engineering and Tissue/Tumor Engineering studies and works on.”Raahul Ravi

Learning about learning

The incubator followed a carefully planned curriculum. Each week students spent one class session focused on learning and pedagogy and the second session working in teams to create the new courses. Students also attended master classes, where they observed an experienced instructor and reflected on their observations. They interviewed industry professionals about their work and expectations when hiring students, and they interviewed faculty not only at U-M but across the country.

During the second part of the course, BME Assistant Professor Kelly Arnold, a systems biologist, taught a class in which she asked students to apply ordinary differential equations to a particular problem, receptor-ligand binding, and model the process using MATLAB. Once students completed the assignment, they reflected on the experience to help them better understand the difference between novices and experts.

Finally, during the last part of the course, students completed their short-course curricula, following two key criteria: First, courses had to integrate at least two disciplines, for example, math and biology or electrical engineering and molecular biology. And second, courses had to include the acquisition of a tangible skill, such as CAD, Autodesk Fusion 360, or LabVIEW, that students could use toward solving critical BME problems.

Gaining a competitive advantage

Building specific skills was critical to the BME-in-Practice concept. “At the end of the day,” says Huang-Saad, “you can’t get a job by just telling someone you’re a great critical thinker; you need to be able to plug in and add value from the minute you hit the ground.”

Second-year student Regan Bernstein agrees. “As a sophomore, I didn’t really have any technical skills that would set me apart from anyone else bombarding the companies at the Career Fair. In BME, students don’t get experience with lab work, 3D modeling, or many other vital skills companies are looking for until later in their college career. These modules gave me the skills I needed to comfortably speak with recruiters and confidently say I had the skills they were looking for.” Bernstein hopes that by taking the courses, she’ll have set herself up for “meaningful and successful” internship opportunities early on.

Rave reviews

Not surprisingly, the incubator earned high marks from the students who participated, with evaluation scores near 5.0 in several areas, including course excellence, advancement of students’ subject matter understanding, increased student abilities, and whetting students’ appetites for learning more about the subject matter.

The first class of BME Instructional Incubator instructors.

The incubator course gave recently-hired Lecturer Barry Belmont a more nuanced understanding of teaching and learning, helping him further ground his “own teaching in theoretical framework mentalities” to better guide students as they internalize new material in conjunction with new behaviors and connect those ideas and behaviors with previously learned concepts. “The incubator class has led me to other teaching seminars and engineering education opportunities, which are both career aspirations and goals,” he adds.

Doctoral candidate Karlo Malaga took the incubator because he intends to pursue a career in teaching after earning his doctorate. The opportunity to “design and develop a course from the ground up, [and] to actually launch and teach it is truly unique, and I think it will strengthen my application when it comes to applying for future jobs.”

Malaga found the experience, in a word, he says, “humbling. I found out first-hand just how much work can go into creating a course. By far the most enjoyable part of the experience for me was seeing the course that I had spent all semester working on come to life.”

Malaga taught Introduction to Neural Engineering and also presented his incubator work at an American Society for Engineering Education regional conference. He describes the incubator and teaching experiences as a turning point. “At the end of the day, it reaffirmed to me that I was on the ‘right’ career path since I enjoyed every aspect of teaching and developing the course.”

“…it reaffirmed to me that I was on the ‘right’ career path since I enjoyed every aspect of teaching and developing the course.”Karlo Malaga

Huang-Saad is now working with School of Education graduate student Jacqueline Handley and BME graduate student Cassandra Woodcock to conduct qualitative research to evaluate the impact of the incubator model on undergraduate and graduate students and industry participants, including pre- and post-course surveys, focus groups, and interviews.

Iterative design for curriculum and faculty development

Going forward, the incubator will serve as an iterative design tool for the BME curriculum. “Because we’re constantly reaching out to stakeholders about their needs, expectations, and opportunities for BME students, our students will always be at the leading edge of what technologies are being used and what questions are being asked,” says Huang-Saad. “In effect, we’re creating a sustainable process for integrating career guidance into our undergraduate and graduate programs.”

The incubator also has the potential to become a valuable resource for new faculty, helping them better understand the Department’s curriculum and offering direction and mentorship as they think about new courses to develop and new ways to teach existing and core courses.

When asked about her vision for success of the incubator, Huang-Saad lays out the following scenario: “What I’d most like to see is, when employers in industry, government, or academia are looking for BMEs to hire, they’re going to look to U-M graduates. Not only because our students are incredible interdisciplinary researchers, but also because many of them will have had an opportunity to gain new skills and learn something about teaching – they’ve had a mentored approach to helping others learn.”

“What I’d most like to see is, when employers in industry, government, or academia are looking for BMEs to hire, they’re going to look to U-M graduates.”Aileen Huang-Saad

For more information on the instructional incubator or BME-in-Practice courses, visit teel.bme.umich.edu/projects/incubator and teel.bme.umich.edu/bme-in-practice-courses.


Bright ideas Master's student research explores concept generation in design

by Kim Roth

Generating ideas during an engineering design process is crucial to developing successful solutions. But teaching – and learning – about idea generation in design is challenging for instructors and students alike.

Anastasia Ostrowski (BSE BME ’16, MSE BME ’17), has been conducting research with the aim of providing insights to improve idea generation, and therefore design education, for BME students.

Ostrowski’s thesis research began with “a series of questions,” she says: “What do students think about idea generation? How do instructors discuss idea generation in class? How do students approach coming up with ideas, and what influences their choice in approach?”

To begin answering them, she designed a research project looking at BME students’ conceptions of idea generation and how students tackle idea generation during a class design project. Through a series of interviews with students and observations of teams’ idea generation sessions, she came away with some interesting findings.

For one, Ostrowski found misconceptions among students about the definition and importance of idea generation. “We found students tended to lump idea generation together with evaluation and selection activities, treating them all as one design phase when they’re really distinct activities,” she says.

Given the time pressure of a typical one-semester design course, as well as other constraints, it’s not surprising. “Students kind of have to come up with a set number of ideas, pick one, and go,” she adds.

But that’s not to say students are going about the process the “wrong” way, or that professors aren’t teaching the “right” way. Rather, she hopes to identify ways to help students “open up the design space” to explore many concepts before they must engage their inner critics and select one to pursue.

The research, advised by Shanna Daly, assistant professor in mechanical engineering and engineering education, and Aileen Huang-Saad, assistant professor in BME, entrepreneurship, and engineering education, supports upcoming changes to the BME design curriculum. The new curriculum will include specific strategies for facilitating idea generation.

“For novice designers, it takes a lot of time to work through and gain these skills,” Ostrowski

For novice designers, it takes a lot of time to work through and gain these skills,” Ostrowski says.

Thesis defense now behind her, Ostrowski is spending the summer on a Whitaker International Fellowship. She’s in Switzerland, where she is conducting ethnographic studies of the BME design process of prosthetics and rehabilitation devices with Professor Silvestro Micera, who directs the Translational Neural Engineering Laboratory at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.


Improving medical devices Collaboration by design

Image caption: Clare Donohue at Medical Device Sandbox redesign session. Credit: Lauren Stuart.

by Kim Roth

The design of health-related and medical devices directly impacts patient safety, and engineers and clinicians designing, and using, medical devices depend upon each other’s expertise.

A new experiential learning opportunity at U-M, the Medical Device Sandbox (MDS), helps both BME students and health care learners, including medical students, residents, nurses, and other health providers, collaborate across disciplines to improve device design and, ultimately, patient safety.

“Interprofessional collaboration and shared learning between BME students and health care learners is absolutely critical to designing and using medical devices in the clinic that are effective and safe for patients,” says John Gosbee, MD, a lecturer in the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Internal Medicine and a human factors engineering and patient safety consultant.

“Interprofessional collaboration and shared learning between BME students and health care learners is absolutely critical to designing and using medical devices in the clinic that are effective and safe for patients,” -John Gosbee

Gosbee conceived of the MDS and, working closely with colleagues, BME Professor Jan Stegemann and BME Lecturer Rachael Schmedlen, has held more than two dozen MDS sessions to date.

The guided, structured, and interdisciplinary sessions begin in a simulated patient examination or hospital room at either the U-M Center for Experiential Learning and Assessment or the Clinical Simulation Center. Gosbee presents the group – typically four to six BME students and four to six medical learners – with a realistic scenario that involves the use of a medical device.

Guided by the instructor, the students identify potential design flaws, use errors, and safety issues.

During a recent session, Gosbee asked a participant to climb on and off the examination table, just as doctors routinely ask patients to do. The other students observed. Gosbee continued to prompt students with probable scenarios – the patient has a twisted ankle, the patient is short, the patient’s hands slip on the paper as they try to climb on.

BME students and health care learners constructing prototypes of their redesign ideas. Credit: John Gosbee and Jennifer Lee.

Next, the group brainstorms possible solutions. In the case of the exam table, students suggested moving the step to the side of the table, adding an extra step, and adding handrails.

Interactivity is key. Instead of simply talking about or sketching the changes they would make, students use prototyping materials – items such as foam core, scrap fabric, glue, and tape – to build a three-dimensional representation of their ideas. Participants then share their ideas with the group, and Gosbee helps them synthesize takeaway lessons.

Sessions have included a range of devices and scenarios, including layperson use of an automated external defibrillator, a pulse oximeter found in a first responder’s medical bag, and a medication organizer a patient would use at home.

Students also have brought course projects to the sessions, for example, a liver biopsy simulator from BME 450 and an existing and redesigned EKG device, brought by internal medicine residents.

The MDS name, fittingly, refers to sandbox mode in gaming, where players are freed from the usual rules and constraints.

“Bringing learners from these two disciplines together has transformative potential,” says Gosbee. “Having a creative physical and intellectual space where this kind of interaction can take place brings everyone closer to their shared goal of safer, more effective devices.”

To date, about 100 medical learners and 136 BME students – from BME 450, 452, 499, 599, and M-HEAL – have participated. BME undergraduate Jennifer Lee (’17) played an important role in organizing and running sessions and ensuring as many BME students as possible participated.

BME students who have taken part in the MDS have said it’s helped them think more about patient safety and usability testing as a crucial part of the design process – and that working with health care learners was a key way to better incorporate their expertise.

Other students said they no longer felt resigned to work with products as they currently exist and felt empowered by the redesign process.

In the words of one participant, “Redesign is an outlet for change.”

The MDS has been supported by the Third Century Initiative at U-M and by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R25-EB019898.


Clinical Peer Mentors Identifying clinical needs and resources for the BME design program

This summer marks the second round of a new clinical peer mentor (CPM) program that offers internships to BME students interested in documenting clinical needs and resources for BME design courses.

The program is part of a series of NIH-supported enhancements to the design program. Its goal is to pick up where BME 499/Clinical Observation and Needs Finding leaves off to ensure that students in the senior design courses hit the ground running with curated, well-researched project options.

It’s also a rich experience for the peer mentors themselves, who learn to navigate the clinical environment and interact with healthcare providers to identify the kinds of clinical problems that are ripe for BME solutions.

“The clinical peer mentors start with material from the needs finding class,” says BME lecturer and CPM advisor Rachael Schmedlen. “After training in observational frameworks and U-M Health System protocols, they begin working in the various medical departments where needs were identified. They shadow providers, observe procedures, and conduct interviews. They also dig into the prior art – what solutions exist and how crowded the patent space is. From there, they determine the most promising needs and provide the background that design groups will need to begin tackling the problem. The process often leads CPMs to identify new needs, as well.”

In its first year, the program hosted two interns, BME undergraduates Ayana Dambaeva and Rodrigo Rangel (now a graduate student at the University of Southern California). One of the needs they identified – a method to help patients with multiple sclerosis improve their “key pinch” – was chosen as a project in BME 450, the semester-long senior capstone design course. The group developed a sensory-feedback device that was recently selected as a project abstract for the 2016 Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Annual Meeting (see photos).

Another CPM-identified need fed into the year-long senior design course – an add-on that works with smaller-profile, pediatric bronchoscopes to improve suction capability. The design students who chose it believe their solution will change the way physicians perform the procedure. They are now soliciting physician feedback to gauge their receptiveness to this new approach, solidifying intellectual property, completing a second prototype, and beginning a commercialization strategy.

cpm1
In response to a need identified by CPMs, a BME 450 team designed an assistive device for MS patients that provides visual feedback of appropriate grip force. Team members Joshua Cockrum, Anastasia Ostrowski, Evan Chen, Megan White, and Nicole Bettè will share their device at BMES this fall.

cpm3This year’s CPM cohort grew to five, including Ayana Dambaeva, Renee Hanna, Jennifer Lee, Madhu Parigi, and Hongfeng Zhao. They investigated more than 20 clinical needs from BME 499 and identified a half-dozen new ones, ultimately narrowing their recommendations down to four. They include helping bedridden patients preserve their range of motion, enhancing the fit of CPAP machines for sleep apnea patients, improving the egg retrieval procedure for in vitro fertilization, and designing a disposable water heater/cooler to improve heat transfer in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

cpm2The CPMs also continued to develop key BME student resources. These include clinical handbooks that guide students in shadowing various departments, with information specific to each department’s functioning, special terminology, and clinical background. The interns are also producing videos that share best practices, expert insights, and lessons learned in needs finding, the design process, entrepreneurship, and career development for BME students. The videos are designed to supplement training provided in design classes and to provide exposure to the clinical environment that some students may not have the opportunity to experience.

Another activity undertaken by the CPMs was training to become operating room (OR) chaperones for BME students in the capstone design and needs finding courses. BME students working on projects related to unmet needs in the OR are able to observe procedures when an OR chaperone is present.

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Clinical Peer Mentors participate in the new Medical Device Sandbox, where BMEs and medical learners collaborate to investigate user errors associated with a medical device and brainstorm solutions to improve patient and user safety. Here they prototype a device to better support patients onto an exam table. Credit: Evan Dougherty, Michigan Engineering.

Schmedlen says students drawn to the CPM experience tend to be those interested in going into the medical device industry who want exposure to the environment where the devices are used and the opportunity to explore how doctors and nurses think about them. Others plan to go to medical school but are eager to stay on the innovation path; they are interested in various specialties’ innovation needs.

The Clinical Peer Mentor program is supported by NIH grant 5R25EB019898-02.