Monthly Archives: March 2018

Project Title: Tissue-Replacement Control Slides

Team 17049 Members:
Paul Acosta, biomedical engineering
Alexander Day, biomedical engineering
Tatum Hale, biosystems engineering
Gabrielle Hutchens, biomedical engineering
Vy Nguyen, biomedical engineering

Sponsor: Ventana Medical Systems Inc.

Tech Could Save Lives, Time and Money

When scientists like those at Ventana Medical Center look at tissue under a microscope, every tissue sample looks a little bit different. That’s the point, after all: to look for microscopic differences in tissue that might be indicators of diseases such as cancer. They use colored stains that bind to different parts of the tissue: hematoxylin, a purple stain that binds to nucleic acids, and eosin, a pink stain that binds to substances such as amino acids and proteins.

Sometimes, however, minute differences are caused by the very machine that does the staining. Scientists have to account for whether differences between tissues are due to the tissues themselves or to the staining process. To do this, Ventana runs high sample sizes of tissue to reduce variability, which is neither cost nor time effective.

“If we had a control slide, we could greatly reduce the number of slides we need to run,” said Daniel O’Connor, Ventana’s mentor for the project. “That would save us quite a bit of time and money.”

A Student-Engineered Solution

Five students in the University of Arizona Engineering Design Program were tasked with creating a control slide, a nontissue slide that would stain in a simple, specific pattern the same way every time. If the scientists stain the control slide and it looks different from the specific pattern it should produce, then they know that variations in the stained tissue samples are likely due to the machine, not to inherent variations in the tissue.

“We want to know if our instruments here are functioning as designed,” O’Connor said.

Settling on a Stain

The team found two different materials that best suited their needs for a control slide.

“We needed something that has nucleic acid-like structures that would bind the stains,” said Gabrielle Hutchens, the student team leader.

After much trial and error — they tried Elmer’s glue, acetone, nail polish and even paper — the team settled on an art glue called methylcellulose, which binds well with hematoxylin, and nylon, which binds well with eosin.

“We have ideas, and they work,” Hutchens said. “It’s just implementing them and making them easy every time, and making something that’s going to be consistent for Ventana.”

Their project will be on public display at the College of Engineering’s 2018 Design Day on April 30.

“We’re always looking for more efficient and effective ways of doing things, and this just seems like a very big opportunity, mostly because it doesn’t only impact our department but all of the R&D in the organization, and even beyond that,” O’Connor said.

Sharon ONeal retired as Software Engineering Center director at Raytheon Missile Systems in 2017. During her 32 years with the company, she held a wide range of positions, often leading programs worth upward of $200 million. Among her many career successes was becoming the first female senior fellow in Raytheon Missile Systems.

The first in her family to obtain a college degree, ONeal earned her BS in computer science from California State University, Northridge in 1984, and her MS in computer engineering from the University of Southern California in 1991.

This is her second year as a mentor for the Engineering Design Program.

What inspired you to become a mentor in the first place?

I love working with the next generation of engineers and helping launch them into rewarding and exciting careers in engineering.

How have you benefited from the experience of being a mentor?

Today’s engineering students are graduating with fantastic skills in the latest technologies and tools. Consequently, being a mentor for ENGR 498 becomes a bi-directional mentoring experience. I am able to share more than 34 years of experience and lessons learned with very diverse engineering students, and in return I learn about some of the latest advances made in engineering technologies.

How does being on a mentored design team help students in the professional world?

We are able to share real-world experiences with the students. I have been able to provide career guidance and coaching to several students over the two years I have been a mentor, and it is extremely rewarding to see our students launch their careers.

What do you enjoy about working with the students?

I have been absolutely blown away by the creativity and innovative thinking of some of my students and teams. They are not afraid to take on and develop complex design solutions and diligently work through the many challenges they face in prototyping, integration and testing.

What advice would you offer to others considering mentoring a design team?

Share your experiences, but at the same time, invite new experiences that you will encounter working with the students — because you will surely learn about new methodologies, tools and technologies along the way. Be open-minded and give your students free rein to explore and innovate in their own unique ways.

How do employers benefit when they hire students who have been on a mentored senior design team?

They get to see firsthand what capabilities the students have. I had more than 10 students last year who were hired by their sponsoring company. That is quite amazing.

Tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to learn.

I’m very dedicated to conducting STEM outreach for school-age children in the Southern Arizona community. Fifteen years ago, I founded the Math Science and Technology Funfest in Tucson, which unites hundreds of scientists and engineers and provides hands-on and informational activities for kids. Since its inception in March 2003, more than 75,000 school-age children from all socio-economic backgrounds have benefited from this event, which is now known as AZ STEM.

Three members of Team 17062 stand next to an apparatus they designed to mimic features of the human eye.

Project Title: Macular Degeneration Evaluation System

Team 17062 Members:
Erika Ackerman, biosystems engineering
Lexa Brossart, biomedical engineering
Shelley Meyer, biomedical engineering
Rory Morrison-Colvin, biomedical engineering
Ryan Nolcheff, optical sciences

Sponsor: UA Department of Biomedical Engineering

Students Develop Project That Could Help People See More Clearly

Three members of Team 17062 stand next to an apparatus they designed to mimic features of the human eye.Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss for people age 50 and over, and it affects approximately a third of people over 75.

A team of students in the University of Arizona’s Engineering Design Program are working on a device to study the disease’s causes by examining retinal pigment epithelial cells, or RPE. Their project could be a major step toward finding the first-ever treatment for macular degeneration.

Robert Snyder, an ophthalmologist and professor of biomedical engineering at UA, and Brian McKay, associate professor of ophthalmology in the UA College of Medicine, are the College project mentors.

McKay studies l-dopa, a type of protein that is produced by healthy RPE in a feedback loop in which cells produce the protein and the protein helps the cells grow. But in individuals with macular degeneration, l-dopa production has gone amok. McKay and Snyder also hypothesize that the proteins in the eye, including l-dopa, are produced in a sort of circadian rhythm, but that the rhythm is off in individuals with macular degeneration.

Putting a Hypothesis to the Test

To test the hypothesis, the students are creating an apparatus designed to mimic the environment of the eye and test levels of protein output throughout the day.

Nutrients such as l-dopa move via two tubes through a chamber of RPE, and come out the other end of the chamber carrying new proteins produced by the RPE. The system is unusual in that it washes the nutrients over the cells rather than leaving cells in a static pool of media.

“If you had a culture system that was just a bunch of cells lying in a culture plate for 24 or 48 hours, you wouldn’t see that feedback loop,” Snyder said.

RPE cells are polarized, with apical surfaces that face the external environment and basal surfaces that face the internal environment. The two-tube system corresponds with the two polarities and will allow researchers to see which proteins are being produced by which surfaces.

The nutrients with the new RPE proteins will be collected in microcentrifuge dishes on two collection disks, with 24 dishes each that rotate every hour. This means there will be a sample of both the apical and basal proteins produced for every hour of the day. An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay machine, or an ELISA, can then determine the protein levels in the samples.

“Essentially, we’ll have a time-dependent scale of each of the proteins throughout the day,” said student team leader Erika Ackerman.

Once the system — which will be on public display at the College of Engineering’s 2018 Design Day on April 30 — is up and running, the team and future researchers can experiment with variables. Such variables could include exposing the RPE to 12 varying periods of darkness and light, or adjusting the nutrients and flow rate to investigate other RPE-related diseases such as albinism and glaucoma.

Project Title: Microfluidic-Based System for Mimicking Human Organs

Team 17047 Members:
Fernando Albelo, biomedical engineering
Bailey Bellaire, biomedical engineering
Apoorva Bhaskara, biomedical engineering
Victor Estrada, mechanical engineering
Adolfo Herrera, mechanical engineering
Meagan Tran, biomedical engineering

Sponsor: UA Department of Biomedical Engineering

Organ-Imitating Device Could Mean the End of Animal Testing

A female member of Team 17047 selects a slide while her other hand rests on an electron microscope while a male team member observes.Undergraduate biomedical and mechanical engineers in the University of Arizona’s Engineering Design Program are teaming up to create a “lung on a chip,” a microfluidic device that could offer a new method for testing treatments and identifying how practices like smoking e-cigarettes affect the lungs. Microfluidics is the science of working with fluids on a submillimeter scale.

Using epithelial cells, which line many of the body’s surfaces, and endothelial cells, a single-layer type of epithelium, to create a two-channel system, the students hope to recreate the lung’s most important function: the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen.

“The idea is that it is possible to break it down into the simplest structure that can capture the most important processes,” said College team mentor Yitshak Zohar, professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering and director of the Integrated Microsystem Laboratory.

Historically, scientists have studied the way external stimuli affect cells using one of two methods. The first is on monolayers, using only epithelial or endothelial cells, which doesn’t allow scientist to capture the complex natures of cell signaling in a real organ. The second is to test treatments on animals — not only a complicated ethical issue, but also not the same as using human tissues. As Zohar said, there are basic biological differences that mean results of animal testing aren’t always transferable to humans. This chip could be the middle ground.

“Instead of performing tests in culture dishes or on mice, we can streamline the process through recreating an organ on a chip,” said student team leader Meagan Tran.

Future Applications

The actual lung on a chip, which will be on public display April 30 at the College of Engineering’s 2018 Design Day, is simple to make once scientists have the right cells. They layer the cells onto a clear silicone mold with a semipermeable membrane in between, and then expose the epithelial layer to gas flow and the endothelial layer to liquid flow. Zohar estimated that, once the engineers have a mold, each silicone “chip” would cost less than a dollar to produce.

Further down the line, the device could also have applications in personalized medicine, allowing a specific person’s cells to try out treatments in the system, so doctors and scientists can determine which treatment is best suited for that person.

“The drugs will be tailored to a particular person, not a particular disease,” Zohar said.

There is also the potential to coordinate with other researchers who are producing similar devices to simulate other organs, such as the gut, the breast or the prostate.

“Eventually, these devices can be hooked together to make a human system, and used to study metabolic absorption,” Tran said.

Project Title: Virtual Reality System for Analyzing Human Brain Neuronal Networks

Team 17061 Members:
Erica Michelle Bosset, optical engineering
Joseph Elliott Clark, systems engineering
John Maximillian DiBaise, biomedical engineering
Josiah Michael McClanahan, electrical and computer engineering
Edward Richter, electrical engineering
Vincent Tso, biomedical engineering

Sponsor: UA Department of Biomedical Engineering

Project Gives Educators, Doctors New Tools

A student wearing VR goggles and handling two control pads looks around while a nearby monitor displays a computer-generated representation of a brain's white matter fiber tracts.In the iSpace of the University of Arizona Science-Engineering Library, five Engineering Design Program students on a 2018 senior design team take turns donning a virtual reality, or VR, headset and “entering” a room with a gray ceiling and gray walls. Directly in front of them is a shelf with two “brains” on it. Using VR hand controllers, the students pick up the brains from the shelf and examine them from every angle.

One brain is from magnetic resonance imaging. It looks like a scan of the swirly, dual-hemisphere brain with which most people are familiar. The other — a long, spindly representation of the brain’s white matter fiber tracts — is from a diffusion-tensor imaging scan.

Members of the interdisciplinary design team are fine-tuning their computer program to convert 2-D brain scans into 3-D images for viewing in a VR space.

The students, some working in a field outside their majors, say the project has given them a chance to contribute to a rapidly expanding area of technology.

“It’s a pure open-source, make-the-world-a-better-place, play-with-VR project,” said student team leader Joseph Elliott Clark, a systems engineering major. “What’s not to love?”

Benefits of 3-D Brain Images

When researchers and doctors look at a brain scan, they’re evaluating a 3-D object in a 2-D picture, and a lot of information gets lost in translation or becomes difficult to see. Similarly, it is difficult for students to learn about the brain’s complex structure from pictures, drawings, scans and other 2-D representations.

“Usually if we try to learn about the anatomy of the brain, we look at it the from angle one, angle two, angle three,” said Nan-Kuei Chen, UA associate professor of biomedical engineering, who is partnering with the program on the capstone project. “With this interactive mode, it’s not looking at only three angles — it’s looking at all possible angles.”

The senior student project, which will be on public display April 30 at the College of Engineering’s 2018 Design Day, will give researchers access to pre-uploaded brain images, including some that show symptoms of diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Ultimately, doctors diagnosing and treating brain conditions will be able to upload brain scans of their own patients for 3-D VR viewing.

Educational Add-ons

An added feature for education is audio that explains the functions of each anatomical region of the brain. For example, a user could use hand controls to select the medulla oblongata, and a voice might say, “Vital regions in the medulla oblongata regulate heartbeat, breathing, blood pressure, vomiting and coughing.” Another project extra, which Chen envisions as a free resource, is a VR Android app to help teachers explain basic brain anatomy to students.

“This is a very strong multidisciplinary team, and usually you don’t find so many talents all in the same group,” he said.