HOUSTON – (May 9, 2013) – Rice University students have created a way to help health care workers track vaccines and keep them at a safe temperature.
The SAFE Vaccine senior engineering design team, working at the request of Dr. Patrick McColloster, an associate professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, assembled a device to regulate the temperature of any standard refrigerator to keep it within a range that’s safe for vaccines. Their invention also tracks vaccine stock, usage and expiration dates and, as a result, takes a load of paperwork off the backs of nurses.
A 2011 study by McColloster determined that many refrigerators in Houston medical facilities were freezing vaccines. While freezing doesn’t necessarily destroy them, the vaccines are less effective once they thaw.
Installing laboratory-standard refrigerators would solve the problem, McColloster said. “But average physicians are not going to have these. They wouldn’t be able to afford them.”
Many of these physicians are part of the massive Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vaccines for Children program that serves millions each year. “When I did the study, I initially thought this was an idiosyncratic problem here,” McColloster said, but noted the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general issued a report in 2012 that found refrigeration problems nationwide.
“The problem isn’t that the vaccines are wasted or thrown away because of improper temperature management,” said Amanda Walborn, a member of the SAFE Vaccine team. “It’s that the vaccine gets damaged and nobody knows it. And it gets administered anyway.”
Walborn and her teammates, Anisha Kunder, Josh Mrozack, Max Chester and Andres Martin de Nicolas, found the rudimentary temperature controls in standard refrigerators make it hard to keep vaccines within the mandated range of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.
Vaccine refrigerators are opened and closed many times during the day, and nurses often turn the thermostat down to compensate, McColloster found.
“They set it to the lowest setting to keep it cold enough,” Martin de Nicolas said. “But if they leave it there overnight and during weekends, the temperature will drop too much. It’s very easy to overlook.”
McColloster approached the team’s adviser, Maria Oden, director of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, to see if Rice students could build a better system.
“He wanted us to build a fridge,” Martin de Nicolas said. “But we decided that instead of reinventing the wheel, we would deal with existing equipment and control it better.”
Their more practical solution involves sensors placed inside the refrigerator wired to a controller mounted on the outside. The controller monitors the temperature and adjusts it to a fine degree by literally turning the power to the refrigerator on and off as needed. Ultimately, they plan to link the sensors and controller wirelessly.
The heart of the system is a Raspberry Pi, a complete computer that costs only $35 and can output data to a monitor and be programmed with a keyboard and mouse.
“Generally for this sort of control system, we’d use a microcontroller rather than a full CPU,” Mrozack said. He said the computer they’re using is “much easier for prototyping and programming.”
The computer was flexible enough to allow the team to incorporate the vaccine-tracking system that prints bar code stickers for every box in a refrigerator. When nurses remove vaccines for use, they scan the box and the system prints the necessary paperwork.
Martin de Nicolas and Chester plan to stay on after graduation to prepare a functional prototype for testing this summer. They also plan to develop a power backup system that McColloster said will be especially useful in areas prone to brownouts and blackouts.
“I’ve been working on this type of problem for 20 years,” said McColloster, who sees potential for the device in developing countries as well. “Thank God (for) this program with Dr. Oden.”
Watch a video about the SAFE Vaccine project at http://youtu.be/GPL09jgTcjM
Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews
SAFE Vaccine: http://oedk.rice.edu/Content/Members/MemberPublicProfile.aspx?pageId=1063096&memberId=8093971
Vaccines for Children: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc/index.html
Vaccines for Children Program: Vulnerabilities in Vaccine Management: http://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-04-10-00430.pdf
US vaccine refrigeration guidelines: Loose links in the cold chain:http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/vaccines/article/14489/?nocache=106851251
Graphic-output temperature data loggers for monitoring vaccine refrigeration: implications for pertussis: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21088272
Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen: http://oedk.rice.edu
George R. Brown School of Engineering: http://engr.rice.edu
Images for download:
A team of Rice University seniors built a system to control the temperature in standard refrigerators used for vaccine storage. From left: Max Chester, Josh Mrozack, Amanda Walborn, Anisha Kunder and Andres Martin de Nicolas. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
Rice senior Josh Mrozack shows the SAFE Vaccine device during the university’s recent Engineering Design Showcase. The device regulates temperatures in standard refrigerators used to store vaccines and tracks their usage. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
A group of Rice University mechanical engineering students are getting a charge out of having the coolest new shoes on campus.
As their capstone project that is required for graduation, four seniors created a way to extract and store energy with every step. Their PediPower shoes turn motion into juice for portable electronics and, perhaps someday, for life-preserving medical devices.
Cameron, a Houston-based international company, approached the Rice engineering students with the project. The company primarily works on the macroscale as a provider of flow equipment, systems and services for the oil, gas and process industries, but it asked the students to look toward microscale green energy technologies.
Julian Castro models the PediPower, an energy-producing prototype to run small electronics. It was invented by senior engineering students at Rice University. Photo by Jeff Fitlow.
The Agitation Squad – Carlos Armada, Julian Castro, David Morilla and Tyler Wiest – decided last fall to focus their attention on where the rubber meets the road to create a shoe-mounted generator. Another device to draw energy from the motion of the knee had already been developed and patented and led them to analyze other sources of energy.
Working with the Motion Analysis Laboratory at Shriners Hospital for Children in Houston, the team determined the force at the heel delivered far more potential for power than any other part of the foot.
“We went to the lab and saw the force distribution across the bottom of your foot, to see where the most force is felt,” Morilla said. “We found it would be at the heel and at the balls of your toes, as you push off. We went with the heel because, unless you’re sprinting, you’re letting gravity do the work.”
Their devices as currently designed are admittedly too big for day-to-day wear, but the prototypes developed at Rice’sOshman Engineering Design Kitchen with the team’s advisers, David McStravick and Omar Kabir, meet the benchmarks set by the company. McStravick is a professor in the practice of mechanical engineering and materials science; Kabir is a senior principle research engineer in corporate technology at Cameron.
The prototypes deliver an average of 400 milliwatts, enough to charge a battery, in benchtop tests (and a little less in walking tests, where the moving parts don’t move as far). They send energy through wires to a belt-mounted battery pack. A voltage regulator keeps it flowing steadily to the battery.
Rice University senior engineering students were charged with creating a source of green energy from human motion. The team -- from left, Tyler Wiest, Carlos Armada, Julian Castro and David Morilla -- created prototype generators mounted to shoes. Photo by Jeff Fitlow.
The PediPower hits the ground before any other part of the prototype shoe. A lever arm strikes first. It is attached to a gearbox that replaces much of the shoe’s sole and turns the gears a little with each step. The gears drive a motor mounted on the outside of the shoe that generates electricity to send up to the battery.
“It may be worth looking into having both the heel and the ball of the foot produce power, especially if this shoe could be used while running,” Armada said.
The students expect the project to be picked up by another team at Rice in the fall, with the hope they can refine the materials, shrink the size and boost the power output, all of which will get PediPower closer to being a commercial product.
“If we could prove that we could produce some usable power, store it in a battery and discharge that battery on a mobile device or an MP3 player, then we could prove this device works,” Armada said. “Now the next team can come in and make it smaller and lighter without sacrificing power.”
Tyler Wiest attaches a PediPower to a shoe for a demonstration of its power-generating capabilities at Rice University. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
For now, the team would like to provide enough dependable power for cellphones and other portable electronics. But they’re aware that Cameron has partnered with the Texas Heart Institute to apply its expertise in moving fluids to a new generation of artificial heart pumps, and the students hope their work will contribute to that goal.
“Just the fact that you’re relying on human movement to power something that’s critical to your life is a little bit scary,” Armada said. “You sleep for eight hours a day and you’re not moving. You want to make sure you’re making enough power during the day to last. Realistically, this might be more of a device to charge your phone.
“Theoretically it would be something you just wear, and you don’t notice it,” he said. “That’s the end goal. If you showed someone the shoe while you’re standing still, they wouldn’t even see the device.”
The latest student invention from Rice University’s award-winning engineering design program undefined a set of intravenous tubing that could slash IV-related infections undefined looks so simple. But looks can be deceiving.
The four graduating seniors who created the EZ Flush IV tubing set spent hundreds of hours creating an elegant solution to a major health care problem in the developing world: Most hospitals there cannot afford the prefilled saline syringes that nurses in developed countries routinely use to flush IV lines.
Regular flushing prevents infections from forming around the IV catheter, a thin, flexible tube that stays inside the patient’s arm. Infections from catheters can be deadly, and the rate of these infections is much higher in developing countries.
Smooth Saline team members Becky Zaunbrecher, Lindsay Miller, Jessica Williams and Kathleen Wiest are each slated to graduate May 11 with degrees in bioengineering. Prior to teaming up last fall at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), all four had taken courses in global health, and three had spent a summer abroad testing innovative medical designs in the developing world as part of Rice’s award-winning, hands-on engineering education program Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB).
Smooth Saline team member Lindsay Miller explains the EZ Flush design to Rice University Representative Y. Ping Sun at Rice's annual Engineering Design Showcase.
“Ours is pretty unique in terms of a global health project because ours was actually pitched by Becton/Dickenson, a medical device company in the United States,” Wiest said. “BD sells prefilled saline syringes in the United States and around the world, and they asked us to create a new design that would be more affordable for developing countries.”
Smooth Saline’s ingenious solution would allow a nurse in a low-resource hospital to regularly flush IV lines using sterile saline from a patient’s IV bag. All that’s required is a set of IV tubing that contains three tiny clamps, about six inches of extra tubing and a tiny plastic pouch about the size of a ketchup packet. To flush an IV catheter, a nurse simply clamps off the IV line leading to the patient’s arm, redirects a few milliliters of sterile saline from the IV bag into the pouch, opens one clamp, closes another and then squeezes the saline from the pouch through the catheter.
“If we add up the features of our prototype, it costs us about $2.50 to manufacture the whole thing,” Williams said. “But we’re using slightly more expensive parts since we don’t buy them in bundles of 5 million like an IV tubing manufacturer would.”
Smooth Saline team members Becky Zaunbrecher and Jessica Williams test some prototypes to determine if the seals are watertight.
With economies of scale, Smooth Saline estimates the design will add less than $1 to the cost of producing a set of IV tubing. Because each set can be used for about two dozen flushes, the per-flush cost of adding the feature is around 4 cents.
The EZ Flush design earned Smooth Saline the top prize in Rice 360°’s Undergraduate Global Health Technology Design Competition as well as first prize in Rice’s annual Undergraduate Elevator Pitch Competition. The simplicity of the award-winning design is worthy of a team with such terrific chemistry that the members often finish one another’s sentences. But arriving at the design was far from easy.
“It was very iterative,” Miller said. ” We didn’t start out with our end prototype in mind.”
“We didn’t start anywhere near that,” Williams said. “We started with a Windex bottle or maybe like a Nerf-gun type thing.”
“We had a lot of crazy ideas to start with,” Zaunbrecher said.
Some of the crazy ideas had to do with producing saline. The team knew it would be expensive to ship, so they toyed with lots of notions about producing it on site.
Smooth Saline team members (from left) Jessica Williams, Kathleen Wiest, Lindsay Miller and Becky Zaunbrecher.
“At a certain point, we were talking about making giant vats of saline, and we realized it was just NOT feasible to expect doctors or nurses to do that,” Williams said.
Smooth Saline credits their OEDK advisers undefined bioengineering faculty members Ann Saterbak and Maria Oden undefined with directing them toward the more practical option of using what was already available.
“They already have IV bags at all hospitals and clinics,” Miller said. “The biggest decision we made was to take advantage of the saline that was already there, and that’s what led us to design this IV tubing set.”
But that too was a challenge. In fact, most of their initial ideas about how to get the saline from the bags were also overly complex.
“As we were drawing out our ideas, we were literally drawing tubing sets without realizing that we were drawing them,” Wiest said. “We were coming up with these ideas of connecting something between an IV bag and a patient, and it didn’t dawn on us until …”
“… after we had designed it, and someone phrased it to us differently,” Zaunbrecher continued. “And we were like, ‘Oh, wow. It really is just an IV tubing set with something added on.’ It was a big breakthrough day because we realized that was how we could market it and sell it, and it would just make it much more accessible and usable by nurses.”
All four members of Smooth Saline credit BTB and Rice’s global health program with permanently changing their lives. Williams is joining the Peace Corps in June, and Wiest decided to become a doctor rather than an engineer and to practice medicine in the developing world.
“I don’t plan on directly pursing global health, but it’s definitely changed my outlook on health technologies,” said Zaunbrecher, who, like Miller, plans to attend graduate school in bioengineering. “It will definitely always stay with me … the importance of keeping health technologies accessible to everyone and just helping the overall health of the planet and not just a small subset of the people who can afford something.”
Rice University bioengineering professors Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden, the winners of the 2013 $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation, are donating their prize money toward the construction of a new neonatal ward at the African hospital that has helped implement Rice’s low-cost, student-designed health care technologies since 2007.
Maria Oden (left) and Rebecca Richards-Kortum at Rice University's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen in Houston.
The Lemelson-MIT Program today announced that Oden and Richards-Kortum won the prestigious award in honor of their life-saving inventions and pioneering efforts to inspire and lead Rice students to invent and deliver low-cost technological innovations to improve health care for people in developing nations.
“When Maria and I learned we had won this award, we both knew exactly how we wanted to use the prize money,” Richards-Kortum said. “Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre (Malawi) is an extraordinary place that is committed to caring for the world’s most vulnerable patients. The physicians there have shown us how simple innovations can dramatically improve neonatal health, and they’ve inspired us to engage our students in solving the challenges of newborn care in low-resource settings.”
Oden and Richards-Kortum are two of the driving forces behind the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health Technologies and Rice 360°’s award-winning, hands-on engineering education program Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB). BTB is an engineering-design program founded in 2006 with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. More than 10 percent of Rice undergraduates undefined including many non-engineering students undefined have participated in BTB, which has produced 58 low-cost health technologies, including two that are already being broadly distributed by national health authorities in the developing world.
“Each year, more than 3 million babies die within the first month of life,” Oden said. “Ninety-nine percent of those deaths happen in the developing world, and many of them could be prevented if hospitals in low-income countries had access to a few low-cost technologies that combat the most common causes of infant mortality.”
Oden and Richards-Kortum said the new QECH nursery will provide excellent care for newborns and serve as an innovation hub for the design, evaluation and implementation of Rice 360°’s Day One Project, an ambitious $375,000 effort to improve the lives of newborns in the developing world from the day they are born. Through the Day One Project, Rice 360° aims to create a collection of low-cost, neonatal technologies that a district hospital serving 250,000 people can implement for about $5,000.
“Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden have applied outstanding research and motivated our innovative students to use simple technology to improve health care in the world’s poorest regions,” said Rice President David Leebron. “As teachers, they have challenged their students to become leaders who use their skills in the service of others and betterment of our world, in this case saving babies’ lives, and that is a fundamental part of Rice’s mission.”
Richards-Kortum, the Stanley C. Moore Professor and chair of Rice’s Department of Bioengineering, also directs Rice 360°. Oden, professor in the practice of bioengineering and director of Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, coordinates the technical design efforts of BTB students.
BTB students work in teams to design technologies that address health care challenges identified by clinicians in the developing world. Each summer, about a dozen Rice students take the year’s most promising BTB designs to Africa and Latin America for evaluation under the guidance of physicians and nurses in clinics and hospitals. More than 90 percent of BTB summer interns plan to incorporate global health activities into their careers after graduation.
The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding innovators and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention. The program recognized Richards-Kortum and Oden for several BTB technologies, including Rice’s “bubble CPAP” system, or bCPAP, a respiratory support system for newborns that uses low-cost aquarium pumps to generate “continuous positive airway pressure” (CPAP).
CPAP technology helps keep a child’s lungs inflated and makes it easier for them to breathe. The technology, which is particularly beneficial for premature newborns with immature lungs and for infants who are fighting severe respiratory infections, is widely available in the developed world, but the machines there cost about $6,000 and are too expensive for most developing world hospitals.
Doctors at QECH challenged Rice’s BTB students to come up with a lower-cost alternative, and they created bCPAP, a $400 system that delivers the same therapeutic flow and pressure as systems used in the developed world. BTB evaluated the device at QECH in a clinical trial funded by Saving Lives at Birth, a joint program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Norwegian government, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada and the World Bank. The clinical trial found that bCPAP greatly improved the survival rates for premature babies. BTB is now working with Malawi’s Ministry of Health to implement Rice’s system in all of the country’s hospitals.
Richards-Kortum and Oden said the Day One project is designed to replicate the success of bCPAP. Day One uses the methods pioneered in the bCPAP project to refine, implement and evaluate other neonatal technologies developed at Rice that will address the primary causes of infant mortality.
“We are accepting the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation on behalf of all of the people at Rice, the Texas Medical Center and around the world who have helped to make BTB’s work possible,” Oden said. “Our decision to donate the prize money to QECH is a way to recognize the efforts of our students and collaborators, while ensuring that more life-saving technologies like bCPAP will be used to improve neonatal care in the developing world.”
Other BTB innovations recognized by the Lemelson-MIT Program include:
“What is striking about these great professors is their vision that undergraduates can develop robust, inexpensive, technical solutions to solve real problems, and that the students can go to places like Malawi, deploy their prototypes and make the necessary modifications and improvements to deliver sustainable, practical, working devices,” said Ned Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering.
The Lemelson-MIT Program and its awards are named for Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history’s most prolific inventors. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy, founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994.
“By introducing their undergraduate students to the health care challenges that exist in low-resource areas, and training those students in the invention process both inside and outside of the classroom, Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden have created a group of young inventors who are developing solutions that save lives,” said Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. “The Lemelson-MIT Program’s award winners are chosen based on their own technological inventiveness and their ability to inspire the next generation of inventors. With several inventions in the field and many of the Beyond Traditional Borders students going on to include technology and global health as a focus of their careers, Rebecca and Maria are outstanding award winners and role models.”
The ideal system for monitoring a baby’s health would be as simple as one, two, three. Three teams of senior engineering students at Rice University are working to do so wirelessly in neonatal wards in the developing world.
The design teams have built a modular system to monitor an infant’s vital signs with a tablet that can track the progress – or warn of problems – for many babies at once.
The VitaLink system keeps tabs on infants’ breathing, heart rate and body temperature. The system is designed to match the capabilities of nurseries in the developed world but at a cost more realistic to clinics in developing countries where the need is greatest.
Gary Woods, a professor in the practice of computer technology in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and one of the team’s advisers, went to Africa last summer to see how his students could contribute to infant care at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. The hospital has partnered with the Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health Technologies to develop cost-effective systems. At Queen Elizabeth’s neonatal nursery, a very small staff must care for dozens of babies with no way to monitor a crowded ward all at once.
Three teams of Rice University senior engineering students participated in the creation of VitaLink, a wireless system to monitor the health of infants in developing countries. From left: (top) Adrian Galindo, Yuqiang Mu, Rahul Rekhi, Alison Hightman, Abhijit Navlekar, Fabio Ussher and Kiran Pathakota; (bottom) Eric Palmgren, Nathan Lo, Gbenga Badipe, Chris Metzler and James Kerwin. Team members Matt Johnson and John Slack are absent from the photo. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
“I came away with a pretty good idea of what it would take to make this project,” Woods said. He pitched the idea to his senior students last fall. “There were so many interested that we formed three teams,” he said. “Their goal has been to build a system that has a little battery-powered dongle that can record the vital signs of a baby and wirelessly transmit them to a central tablet,” he said.
The three projects and their team members are the iNurse (the BioLink team of Nathan Lo, Abhijit Navlekar, Rahul Rekhi, Fabio Ussher and Eric Palmgren),VitaSign (Gbenga Badipe, Adrian Galindo, Alison Hightman, James Kerwin and John Slack) and the Scalable Wireless Alert Generator, aka SWAG (Yuqiang Mu, Chris Metzler, Kiran Pathakota and Matt Johnson). Each team built a component that contains the necessary electronics and can be linked together at the side of the crib to gather and deliver information.
The iNurse monitors temperature and respiration. The VitaSign adds a low-cost, low-power heart-rate sensor. Both alert caregivers if they sense trouble.
SWAG is where the information comes together. The iNurse and VitaSign are hooked to the SWAG “brick,” which sends data over the air to an Android tablet. The students designed a custom app to give caregivers an up-to-the-minute picture of multiple infants’ health. With its current Bluetooth implementation, the system can monitor several babies, but an upcoming revision to Bluetooth 4 would allow for many more.
The modular VitaLink system created by seniors at Rice University will monitor multiple infants through a wireless system that keeps tabs on their breathing, temperature and heart rates. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Putting 14 students on a project is highly unusual at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), which typically sees teams of three, four or five toiling away on a given task.
“It was like a startup environment where you have different sub-teams working on one larger project,” Rekhi said. “It put more on us to be able to coordinate and ensure that our individual devices and departments could communicate. But it did feel like an entrepreneurial endeavor.”
One member of the SWAG team, Johnson, will demonstrate the system in Ethiopia on behalf of Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) this summer. “Another team will go to Malawi, so our project will potentially be going to both places,” he said. Johnson said he hopes to come back at the end of the summer “with a lot of good data, and next year we’ll have something really awesome.”
Before it goes to Africa (and before they graduate next month), the students want to make the system robust enough to handle inconsistent power feeds. “Power is constantly in flux at Queen Elizabeth,” said Rekhi, a bioengineering major who worked there as a BTB intern last summer. “We want the battery backup to be able to handle the system in case of a power outage.” The team’s goal is to run the system for months on end on double-A batteries.
Caregivers in low-resource settings will be able to monitor the vital signs of infants through a tablet connected wirelessly to sensors that feed information to modular “bricks.” Photo by Jeff Fitlow
They expect future design teams to enhance VitaLink. “By the end of our design cycle, I think we’ve actually done enough hardware implementation that we can hand it off and tell the next team they don’t have to worry about hardware any more,” said Pathakota, an electrical engineering student. “All they need to do is write really good software for it.”
“It needs to be really simple and understand the entire ward,” added Metzler, who also studies electrical engineering. “It needs to be clear to the nurse how each baby is doing.”
Maria Oden, director of the OEDK and a professor in the practice of engineering, and Ashu Sabharwal, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, also advised the teams.
Like a fine watch, a Rice University student team’s invention will tick and tock to pump lifesaving fluids into heart-attack patients a little bit at a time for hours on end.
The spring-loaded AutoSyP, which regulates the progress of standard syringes, was designed for patients in developing nations who need quick access to a slow and steady supply of medication.
The Rice engineering seniors who call themselves Chemomatic have already won honors for their sub-$400 box; they placed third in the 2013 University of Minnesota Design of Medical Devices student competition earlier this month. But the real payoff will come when their mentors from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) take their device to Fiji for evaluation with heart-attack and stroke patients.
“In a lot of the developing world, there’s a tremendous burden of cardiac disease,” said Dr. Rohith Malya, director of the Division of Global Health at UT Health. “Fiji is the epicenter of it all. They have a death rate from heart attacks about five to eight times that of the United States.”
Rice University engineering students, from left, Lemuel Soh, Peter Jung, Glenn Fiedler and Kevin Jackson show the AutoSyP, which they intend to be a reliable, portable, automated drug delivery system for the developing world. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Malya said heart attacks tend to strike Fijians in their 30s and 40s, much younger than in the Western world. “We think there’s a genetic predisposition to the Western diet being bad for them,” he said. “The Western diet and tobacco came to them about 30 years ago, when they were basically a nation of fishermen and everybody was pretty much healthy.”
Fiji was among the South Pacific nations that declared a pandemic for heart disease at the United Nations in 2011. “It was the first time a noninfectious disease was declared a pandemic for any region,” Malya said. “Basically, the more they live like us in the West, the faster they die like us.”
Malya came to Rebecca Richards-Kortum, director of the Rice 360˚ Institute for Global Health Technologies, and Maria Oden, director of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, for help. They brought the Chemomatic team together last fall.
Rice students Glenn Fiedler, Peter Jung, Lemuel Soh and Kevin Jackson designed their device to run for 24 hours using very little battery power as it delivers a measured dose of drugs or saline to a patient more accurately than an IV drip would. Though it can help treat patients with many needs, the first are likely to be cardiac patients like those under the care of Malya and stroke patients of Dr. Amy Noland, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at UTHealth who also works with the team.
“Myocardial infarctions are ischemic events, clots that develop in the heart, so you use thrombolytic drugs like tPAand streptokinase to break up the clot,” said Jackson, who plans to attend medical school after graduating from Rice. “Both can be used for cardiovascular events. Some strokes are ischemic events, a clot in the brain, and you can use tPA.”
In the Western world, Malya said, hospitals often treat clots with a cathetherization lab used to place angioplasty balloons or stents. “But these machines are expensive, and nobody can afford them but high-level Western hospitals. We’re asking if we can do something using older medicines to get Western-level outcomes. I think we can, and there’s research out there that says we can.”
Fine control of the drug delivery is critical, and the AutoSyP delivers, Jackson said. “Our device accommodates syringe sizes from 5 to 60 milliliters, and the flow rate varies depending on the syringe size. It can be 60 all the way down to 5 milliliters per hour,” he said.
The AutoSyP delivers force to syringes of various sizes through a spring-driven ratchet-and-pawl escapementsystem, like those found in timepieces. “The idea is to regulate something that wants to unwind quickly,” said Jung, also a future medical student, explaining why the team used a battery-driven stepper motor to disengage the two pawls from the ratchet in turn.
“The spring wants to unwind the ratchet, but it’s opposed by the pawls,” Jung said. “So to knock these pawls up one at a time and allow the release in spring tension, we need to input some energy.”
Every step pushes the syringe plunger a tiny bit forward. A few simple adjustments allow a clinician to adapt the device for various syringe sizes.
They want the AutoSyP to be portable enough to be used in ambulances. “As they like to say, time is tissue,” Jackson said. “The longer you wait (to deliver treatment), the more of it is dying.”
Malya hopes to have one or more AutoSyP prototypes in Fiji for evaluation by health officials within the next three months.
“If this works in Fiji, it’s very expandable to relieve noncommunicable disease burdens in pretty much all of Africa and Southeast Asia,” he said. “If you start at Bangkok and draw a 1,000-mile radius, you cover 30 percent of the world’s population growth. It turns out many of those are middle- or lower-middle-income people who can afford bad things that make them susceptible to heart disease, diabetes and stroke.”
It’s hard to get a perfect cup of coffee in space. But Rice University freshmen are trying to fix that.
The engineering students charged with the task of making a better coffee condiment system for the International Space Station (ISS) have come up with a solution they believe will please the astronauts.
The students, Robert Johnson, Colin Shaw and Benjamin Young, were told of astronauts’ longtime frustration over getting coffee the way they like it. They chose the project offered through the Texas Space Grant Consortium as part of their Introduction to Engineering Design class in the fall and continued to perfect their product this spring.
“The issue is that they only have four set ratios of coffee, creamer and sugar,” Shaw said.
“They have coffee black, coffee with a lot of sugar, coffee with a lot of creamer and coffee with a lot of both. It’s all premixed.”
Rice University students, from left, Robert Johnson, Benjamin Young and Colin Shaw show their coffee condiment system for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The freeze-dried blends are in aluminum pouches. Astronauts rehydrate their java with 70-degree Celsius water from a dispenser on the ISS and drink it through a leak-proof straw that keeps stray drops from floating around the station, where they could do serious damage.
“That syrupy coffee tastes pretty terrible,” Shaw said. “So we developed this system that allows astronauts to customize their coffee. If they know what they like on Earth, they know what they like in orbit.”
Their adviser at Johnson Space Center’s Space Food Systems Laboratory set few constraints. “He gave us a variety of plastic and aluminum pouches and adapters, and just said, ‘Go,’” Shaw said. “Our solution had to be small, lightweight, function in microgravity and proportion condiments accurately. We felt it was best addressed by making a system that supplemented the existing solution, as opposed to totally reinventing it.”
The students’ four-part system works with existing black coffee pouches. They used two-ply, heat-sealed pouches supplied by NASA for the sugar and creamer and a roller system to squeeze just the right amount through an adapter to the coffee pouch without leaking. The two-element roller was made on a 3-D printer at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, where they worked with advisers Ann Saterbak, a professor in the practice of bioengineering education, and engineering lecturer Matthew Wettergreen. The students’ design was inspired by similar devices that squeeze the last drop of toothpaste out of a tube.
A handle for the custom roller system may help astronauts deliver just the right amount of cream and sugar for pouches of hot coffee consumed in orbit. A team of Rice University freshman engineering students developed the system for NASA. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Since the condiment bags can’t be reused, the students wanted to get maximum efficiency from each. “We want to have one set of pouches able to serve two cups of coffee with two cubes of sugar and two packets of creamer for two astronauts in one day,” Young said.
Gauges applied to the pouches allow for accurate dispensing. “We did a lot of testing for accuracy,” Johnson said. The team determined the system could deliver 10 milliliters of creamer or sugar within a 5 percent margin of error
The students would love the opportunity to test their invention themselves aboard the ISS, but would be happy with a thumbs-up from the astronauts.
“I was reading an interview with an astronaut on Reddit the other day,” Shaw said, “and he was asked, ‘What’s your favorite thing up in orbit?’ He said it was the Russian shrimp and tartar sauce, because it’s crunchy and has a lot of flavor. We hope that coffee will soon be on that list.”
The students, who are each slated to graduate from Rice next month with degrees in computational and applied mathematics, set out last fall to create a computer program that uses noninvasive echocardiograms to give doctors information that currently can be obtained only with an invasive catheter.
Sgt. Joey's Lonely Hearts Club Band members (from left) Joey Huchette, Hrothgar, Andrew Tilley and (front) Guang Yang.
The four, who calls themselves “Sgt. Joey’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” created the data analysis software for their senior capstone design project, a program requirement for all engineering students at Rice. The team will present its work Thursday at Rice’s 2013 Engineering Design Showcase and Poster Competition.
“If someone is already sick, the last thing you want to do is stick things in their heart,” said Sgt. Joey’s team member Hrothgar of Will Rice College.
“And remember, we’re talking about children here,” said Guang Yang, another team member from Will Rice. “An invasive catheter is actually a lot worse for them than it would be for adults.”
The team’s goal is to measure blood pressure gradients inside the heart. They were assigned the task after TCH cardiologists brought the problem to the attention of faculty in Rice’s Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM).
Top: Raw velocity information -- in centimeters per second -- recorded by echocardiogram during a validation test. Middle: Velocity data that has been smoothed using a mathematical function called a spline. Bottom: The pressure gradient obtained from calculations on the velocity data.
The pressure gradient is a dynamic measure that tells doctors how powerfully the heart is pumping blood. The pressure gradient within the left ventricle undefined the final chamber that blood passes through before it leaves the heart undefined is a particularly useful measure for cardiologists.
Physicians today can only reliably measure the pressure gradient in the left ventricle with a catheter, a thin probe that must be threaded through a patient’s blood vessels and placed inside the ventricle while the heart is beating.
Sgt. Joey’s team member Joey Huchette of Martel College said the team’s assignment was to find a way to measure the gradient using the data from echocardiograms, noninvasive heart tests that involve technology similar to that used for sonograms.
“Heart patients at Texas Children’s undergo echocardiograms regularly anyway, and they are noninvasive,” Huchette said. “Doctors can use the echocardiogram to extract information about the velocity of the blood in the heart. This test tells them how fast the blood is moving toward the probe, and that’s useful, but it’s not as useful as the pressure information is in certain contexts.
“We’re trying to find if there’s a way that we can turn this readily available information about the velocity of the blood in the heart into this pressure information that is useful diagnostically,” Huchette said.
Andrew Tilley, a team member from Hanzsen College, said, “Our starting point is the echocardiogram picture, which is basically an array of velocity values. At each pixel, we’re trying to convert velocity to pressure.”
Sgt. Joey's team member Guang Yang undergoing an echocardiogram at Texas Children's Hospital during validation testing.
The team found that there were various well-studied equations from fluid dynamics that they could use to attack the problem, and they even found previous studies where doctors had worked out some details of the conversion. However, the equations were very complex, and it took several months to determine whether their goal of using the echocardiogram data was even feasible.
By Christmas break, the team had worked out the mathematical framework after several meetings with Dr. Elijah Bolin, a third-year fellow in cardiology at TCH; Dr. Craig Rusin, assistant professor of cardiology at TCH; and Dr. Daniel Penny, chief of cardiology at TCH. They are currently trying to validate their model with data from a daylong test at TCH using an invasive catheter in a mechanical heart.
They’ve also logged hundreds of hours creating and refining their software, which was designed for a user with basic computer skills and a typical PC. The software also needs to deliver results in a visual format that is both useful to cardiologists and easy to interpret in a matter of seconds.
Sgt. Joey’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band is still working on its project and plan on handing it off to another design team next year. They hope the design can be refined to the point where researchers in Penny’s lab can test the software in an animal model in a side-by-side comparison with catheters.
“Hopefully, it can help people down the line at some point,” Tilley said. “That possibility is one of the things that made this project interesting to work on.”
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