Project Title: On-Slide Reagent Concentration Feedback and Control

Ventana Medical Systems Inc. logoTeam 15040 Members:
Collin Gilchrist, biomedical engineering
Jamie Hernandez, biomedical engineering
Shawn Iles, optical sciences and engineering
Pete Moya, biomedical engineering
Tyler Toth, biomedical engineering
Danton Whittier, systems engineering

Sponsor: Ventana Medical Systems Inc.

Noninvasive slide staining technique earns top Design Day prize

Team 15040 with Best Overall Design checkYou may have encountered the field of histopathology without ever realizing it. Simply put, histopathology is a microscopic examination of a tissue sample taken via surgery or biopsy.

Because the results can be a matter of life or death, accurate measurements are crucial. This extends to the fluid — known as ionic buffer solution — that binds to the sample. Its ionic concentration must remain constant. Variations can adversely affect the quality of the staining used to highlight abnormalities in tissue.

Team 15040’s senior design project provided test labs with a way to precisely measure the ionic concentration of the buffer solution on histopathological slides. Their work was recognized at Engineering Design Day 2016 with the highest honor, the $2,000 Raytheon Award for Best Overall Design.

The Raytheon Award goes to the team that most effectively meets judging criteria, devises a well-thought-out solution that has been rigorously tested, and offers a professional and easy-to-understand poster and presentation.

The project’s sponsor, Ventana Medical Systems Inc., is a Tucson-based manufacturer of medical diagnostic systems and biopsy-based cancer tests. Ventana is a member of the Roche Group, a global health care company with headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.

The company has sponsored at least two senior design teams each year since 2011; this year it sponsored four.

“They’re high-risk, high-reward projects,” said on-campus mentor Greg Ogden. “They challenge the students to try far-off things and see if they work.”

Ogden, a research associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Arizona who just finished his sixth year as an Engineering Design Program mentor, praised Team 15040 for rising to Ventana’s expectations.

All of the team’s work had to be at the highest level, including behind-the-scenes aspects like team meeting agendas, minutes, and after-meeting action items and follow-throughs.

“We treated them like employees,” said Lisa Jones, a development systems integration manager with Ventana who served as the team’s sponsor-mentor and adviser.

Ogden cited the team’s deft handling of a fall-semester challenge as a game-changer that helped them prevail. One of their early design concepts, using a refractometer, was not considered viable by Ventana.

We’ll prove that it is, replied the team. And they did, with preliminary research findings that sold the company on their idea.

The final product includes a laser that refracts light into the solution; the aforementioned refractometer, which provides real-time measurements of the solution’s ionic concentration; and a graphical user interface for data display. Jones praised the touch-screen interface for its ease of use, especially for busy lab staff, who “don’t have time to bugger around with equipment.”

Perhaps most critical, the technique enables lab staff to conduct the entire measuring and reporting process without touching the sample — thereby avoiding risk of contamination. It satisfies Ventana’s requirement for a noninvasive system. The company has filed for provisional patent protection.

The combination of lofty standards and challenging projects led to success for Ventana’s 2016 Design Day teams. “Three of our four teams won,” Jones says.