Collaboration between Project MESA and Washtenaw Community College’s Advanced Fabrication Program

M-HEAL’s Project MESA has been finalizing its design of a portable gynecological examination table for use in rural mobile clinics in Nicaragua. In addition to improving the design’s comfort, durability, and clinical features, they have been working to simplify manufacturing of their product. The group connected with Amanda Scheffler, a welding instructor at Washtenaw Community College (WCC). She donated her time to weld the team’s fifth iteration of their prototype, and after hearing their mission to reduce cervical cancer morbidity in low-resource settings, she wanted her students to get involved. She teaches the Advanced Fabrication course at WCC, and she wanted her students to have the chance to apply their manufacturing skills from the classroom in a meaningful way. Her students have been designing and building three welding fixtures for Project MESA’s portable table, which can be used for quicker and simpler assembly of the devices. This partnership has provided both the WCC and UM students with the unique opportunity for cross-collaboration between engineers and manufacturers, with both groups learning from each other while working on a project geared towards improving global healthcare. In the future, they hope to continue this relationship in optimizing the manufacturing of the tables so that more of MESA’s devices can reach their target communities.

From: Erik Thomas (, M-HEAL, Project MESA Lead.

Image: Amanda Scheffler and one of her students welding Project MESA’s fifth prototype of their portable gynecological examination table in December 2016.

M-HEAL’S Project MESA Wins $25K from Ford C3 Prize supports distribution of team’s portable exam table in Nicaragua

ANN ARBOR— A team of U-M students is one of seven across the country to win $25,000 in the 2016 Ford College Community Challenge (Ford C3). Project MESA was recognized for their efforts to improve women’s health in rural Nicaragua through a portable gynecological exam table they designed for use by mobile health workers traveling to remote villages.

The team, which is comprised largely of BME undergraduates, is part of Michigan Health Engineered for All Lives (M-HEAL), the U-M student organization that brings biomedical engineering to underserved communities around the world.

Project MESA was an ideal match for Ford C3’s focus on student-driven projects that address pressing community needs in a sustainable way through the disciplines of engineering, business, and design.

The student-run project aims to reduce rural Nicaragua’s high mortality rate from cervical cancer by designing a portable, sterile, and professional table that helps women feel more comfortable consenting to a sensitive exam, while improving diagnostic accuracy through proper positioning. In the absence of the device, women are often examined by healthcare workers on beds or kitchen tables.

From its start, Project MESA had its sights set on sustainability. Catalyzed by a needs assessment among local healthcare providers in 2010, it was born of market demand. Through four iterations, the table has been refined to more fully meet the needs and preferences of providers and patients.

The team’s current focus is on sustainable production and distribution. Members traveled to Nicaragua in May to meet with healthcare partners for feedback on their most recent prototype and to begin discussions with local manufacturers about piloting in-country production of the table.

“This grant will allow team members to stay longer in country to try building the table with the local manufacturers we’ve identified…”– Erik Thomas

This testing and potential scale-up of local production is capital-intensive and will receive a significant boost from the Ford C3 funding. “This grant will allow team members to stay longer in country to try building the table with the local manufacturers we’ve identified,” says Project MESA co-lead and BME senior Erik Thomas. “We’ll be able to identify which parts of the table are easy to make there and which parts aren’t so easy. We plan to bring those insights back and design something that’s easier to produce, so that we can approach larger contract manufacturers to scale things up.”

The team hopes to leverage its partnerships with local groups to identify one with a stake in the table’s success to spearhead its distribution. They envision a portion of the proceeds supporting each level of the supply chain to foster sustainability.

Project MESA co-lead and proposal author Katherine Chen says the team is grateful for Ford C3’s support and credits their success with a highly motivated student team and a vigorous support network of faculty and volunteer advisors and Nicaraguan partners.

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