Training tomorrow’s engineers

Since 2015, engineering students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison have teamed up with Morgridge Institute for Research engineers and clinicians at UW Hospital.

The student-clinician partnership has an important focus: create solutions to pressing biomedical challenges by improving medical devices.

This unique opportunity is made possible by the BerbeeWalsh Prototype Pathway based in the Morgridge Fab Lab, which is directed by Kevin Eliceiri. The student researchers are paired with a clinician and mentored by senior staff engineers to think about new or surprising ways to improve, enhance, or altogether re-envision medical technology in partnership with clinicians on the front lines.

In the past three years, students have collaborated on projects to develop new ways to house organs for transplant surgery, create tools to help train young doctors, and even improve intubation devices used on UW MedFlight.

The pathway is made possible by a gift from the BerbeeWalsh Foundation, created by UW–Madison Emergency Medicine Professor Dr. James Berbee and his wife Karen Walsh.

We caught up with three Fab Lab students working on projects this year.

Gopika SenthilKumar

Senior, majoring in Biomedical Engineering
Hometown: Brookfield, WI

“Patients suffering from tinnitus often go through an extensive and expensive diagnostic process to understand the causes of the noises they hear. But current imaging modalities cannot discern the location and cause of tinnitus.

This leaves the physician unable to truly address the patient’s needs. Further, the patients are only recommended symptom-controlling therapies.

The Halo Project is a collaboration with Dr. Burke Richmond in the UW–Madison Department of Surgery to develop an acoustic sound-based system that can localize the tinnitus sound. The hope is to better understand the pathology of tinnitus.

Often times very simple concepts are missed if we don’t try out or test an idea. Working with clinicians really forces you to simplify engineering language and gain a unique understanding of clinical settings.

The best part of working on the project was being able to work with Dr. Richmond to make the device as clinically relevant as possible. I have a sense of purpose knowing that my device will improve the lives of real patients.”

Joe Ulbrich

BS’18 Biomedical Engineering-Biomechanics, and Spanish Linguistics
MS’19 (Expected) Biomedical Engineering-Biomechanics
Hometown: Winneconne, WI

“My project is to develop an ergonomic syringe. Our device attaches to common brands of syringes and allows them to be extended or compressed by one hand in an ergonomic motion. This allows for one-handed injections and blood draws.

Current techniques to extend and compress syringes with one hand are not ergonomic. This can lead to difficulty performing medical or clinical procedures and also can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome causing high job turnover rates.

The best part about working on this project is having access to all of the prototyping resources. I hope to continue to develop my project over the next semester. I intend to apply for additional funding this upcoming year, and would like to develop the ergonomic syringe into a business.”

Lisa Xiong

Junior, majoring in Biomedical Engineering
Hometown: Madison, WI

“My project is to develop an anatomically and geometrically correct ‘phantom’ for performing ultrasounds that mimics deep vein thrombosis. The DVT Phantom is a collaboration with medical physics Professor Tim Hall and medicine Professor Carol Mitchell.

Simulations and models are excellent learning tools to train students, but there is a practice gap for sonographers-in-training—the jump from the classroom to the clinic is a big one. By creating the DVT Phantom, the clinicians hope to more accurately represent the human anatomy and provide more practice opportunities for sonographers-in-training.

One thing I’ve learned about working with clinicians is that they are more than happy to help you learn about the problem your project is addressing. Throughout this project, I learned how unprepared I was! It isn’t that I was not ready for the research, rather I assumed a quick and easy solution to a complicated problem. I learned to commit more time and consideration in the design process of my prototype.”