College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Matters of the Heart: They Don’t Miss a Beat

Your pulse is racing and you can feel your heartbeat resonating through your chest. The emergency room doctors hurriedly push you down the cold hallway, trying to hide the panic on their faces. When a patient is lying in the hospital with a serious heart condition, the last thing they need to worry about is the extent of the doctor’s training. Therefore, it is vital for doctors to practice their techniques before interacting with live patients. A team of bioengineering Creative Inquiry students, led by Dr. David Kwartowitz, is working to create an electrocardiogram (EKG) simulation device based on biological signals in the human body. They plan to use the device for training and evaluation purposes.

An EKG is the typical method used to collect data about electrical activity in the heart. Patients are often closely monitored during surgeries to ensure a healthy beat is maintained. However, it is necessary to have a working system that collects the data from the EKG and sends it to a computer for further analysis. This information can be used to diagnose a number of health issues, including heart attacks and heart arrhythmias – which are caused by problems in the electrical impulses that create heartbeats. These issues cause a fast, slow or irregular pulse in the patient.

Amanda Nguyen, a junior on the team, explained, “Working on the EKG Simulation and Modeling Creative Inquiry project has provided me the invaluable opportunity to gain hands-on experience with designing electrical circuits. During the process I learned a lot about the practicalities of electrical circuit design that I would not have been able to gain otherwise.”

The Creative Inquiry team focused on two main goals. First, they designed a system to process the EKG signals. Then, they created a human-like dummy for the simulation. The materials used in the dummy were produced to resemble the texture of human tissue, which creates a realistic environment when operating the EKG system.

This EKG simulation will be used for both teaching and training purposes. The simplistic yet realistic nature of the system allows it to be utilized in a number of settings, from elementary schools to medical training evaluations. As children are taught about the human body and EKG signals, they can visualize the process using the interactive dummy. The kids will be able to physically manipulate the simulation in a hands-on approach to understand exactly how an EKG works. They will also be able to listen to hearts that have abnormalities, like arrhythmias, to engage them in the material and help them better grasp the concept.

Professional medical trainees can utilize the simulation due to the realistic and reliable nature of the system. Doctors will be able to learn, experiment, and evaluate their work on the model. The team created an EKG unit that efficiently filters out electrical potential changes in the heart and amplifies them, which allows doctors to better understand what is taking place in the patient from a safe distance. Nguyen noted, “It has been incredibly rewarding to be able to apply the knowledge I have gained in lecture to produce a working EKG.”

Through creating an advanced electrocardiogram system, this Creative Inquiry team will impact both the educational and medical fields. This versatile project benefits a wide array of people in a variety of situations. The team is breaking down the science of simulations – one heartbeat at a time!

Designing Medical Technology for the Developing World

Getting your temperature and pulse taken in the doctor’s office seem like routine tasks. Many parents even complete these tests at home. In a country with so much medical technology, it is hard to imagine life without our luxuries. However, developing countries lack some of the basic medical instruments that keep us healthy. Bioengineering students are working on a project to create affordable medical instruments for developing countries, specifically focusing on Tanzania. While healthcare is improving in these countries, they still lack much of the medical technology found in the United States, and generally use outdated models donated from other countries. This Creative Inquiry team, led by Clemson engineering professors Dr. Delphine Dean and Dr. John DesJardins, aims to create inexpensive, easy-to-use medical technology for the countries that need it the most.

This team is crafting a number of medical products, ranging from a neonatal heating device for hospitals to an affordable glucose monitor for poor villages. Senior team member Suzanna Langworthy says, “We take concepts from our everyday line of medical care and design a device or tool that can accomplish the same goal, but that is cheaper, easier to use, can be easily implemented, and can be made locally to enhance self-sufficiency.” The education for healthcare workers in developing countries is often limited, so it is vital that they have devices that they understand how to use, but at the same time are comparable to higher-end equipment.

The students have the freedom to design and work on any project that interests them, and as a team they are developing a number of problem-solving technologies. For example, Tanzania has an infant mortality rate ten times that of the United States, mostly caused by failing incubators. This team designed a low-cost temperature monitor that detects the temperature of infants and a heating device to regulate their body temperature. Another project constructs blood glucose monitors, which are an important preventative technology. These machines provide diabetes patients with a way to control their disease to prevent further health complications. Other projects include a blood volume indicator and a bacterial sensor for detecting gastrointestinal diseases, such as typhoid and cholera.

While this project allows students to learn the fine points of producing medical technology, it also emphasizes bettering healthcare around the world. Some team members have had the chance to travel to Tanzania and tour the hospitals. This helped them determine which devices are most essential to create. As Britton McCaskill remarks, “In the long-term, we hope to provide developing countries the capacity to be self-sufficient in the healthcare industry and reduce their dependence on external donations.”

Many students on this team express how rewarding it is to apply their engineering skills in a real world setting to address serious health problems. Kevin Keith’s favorite aspect of this project is how “this Creative Inquiry puts us in a position to impact patients who are often in the most need.” Maglin Halsey also comments, “I quickly learned once I began this Creative Inquiry that there are a lot of things involved with the state of healthcare in the developing world. Obviously, there is no quick-fix to the problems in these areas, but we are hoping to start taking small steps towards improvement. We believe that we have a great foundation to make a difference.” This Creative Inquiry provides Clemson students with knowledge and experience to become skilled professionals in bioengineering through a personally and professionally gratifying program.

It’s a Joint Effort

Medical implant devices (MIDs) have been used widely for more than 40 years, and it is estimated that 8 to 10 percent of Americans (20-25 million people) currently have such a device. Although implant devices produce great benefits, sometimes MIDs must be removed or replaced. They are in a continual state of development to increase their performance and extend their useful lifespan. Long-term data on the behavior of implanted devices and host response are essential inputs to the development process, yet there are few systematic programs for the retrieval and analysis of implants in the USA.

Retrieval and analysis of implants benefits patients, as this method leads to implant design. Implants have a minimum lifespan of three months, penetrate living tissue, have a physiologic interaction and are retrievable. A number of barriers exist to establishing an implant retrieval program. Major impediments are the costs associated with such a program and fear of litigation affecting manufacturers, hospitals, physicians, and investigators. The long-term goal of Professor John DesJardins’ Creative Inquiry project is to discuss, investigate, develop, establish, promote and grow a viable retrieval program.

Rather than throwing these used devices away, members of this team have started a state-wide program, known as Clemson University Retrieval of Explants Program in Orthopedics (CU-REPO) to learn more about why implants fail, how they work, and how we can make them last longer. The aim of such a program is to provide a working repository for retrieved implants, and to develop the tools and techniques for the systematic evaluation of implant designs, materials, surfaces and function.

Every year nearly 1 million patients receive total joint replacements to relieve arthritis pain and restore joint function in the hip or knee. Within 15 years it is predicted that this clinical procedure will increase as much as 675%, as our population ages. These implants are not perfect, and sometimes they are removed, or explanted, because of infection, loosening, damage or wear. This team of undergraduate bioengineers collaborate with hospitals and surgeons from around the state and nation. They collect, clean, catalog and study explanted total joint replacements to make them better for all of us.