The FAST Intramedullary Nail


Today I attended one of the Bioengineering seminars held for students (primarily freshmen students) who are interested in pursuing a career in the Bioengineering field. The guest speaker for today’s presentation was Professor Dailey, a professor in the Mechanical Engineering department who also happens to be a Lehigh Alumni! Her topic was on the Flexible Axial Stimulation Intramedullary Nail, a medical orthopedic device used in the recovery of bone fractures (i.e. tibia, humerus, etc).

I really enjoyed her presentation as she went into detail not only on the product itself but also on the process one goes through prior to getting the product into the market.

2 tibia-intramedullary-nail-adult-79814-2947603

(Above is an image of the intramedullary nail once inserted into the tibia cavity, with the nails locking the metal rod that prevents rotation between the fragments of the broken tibia.)

In the case of the intramedullary nail, she spoke of how the device is designed and how it is implanted within a patient (animal or human). By finding an incision site, the nail is inserted into the hole created and then by a hammer-technique, gets pushed into the tibia cavity at an angle. Professor Dailey mentioned that we learn in our Mechanics 003 and Mechanics 012 courses (i.e. forces, stress, strain, etc), they all come into play when ensuring efficiency in the product, both in design and function.

As a Lehigh Alumni, she also spoke of her trajectory prior to working for a start-up company, Orthoxel and becoming a professor: from grad school to the work industry, then back to school for her PhD, she talked to us about what her major in college was and what got her interested in pursuing her PhD and beginning her research lab here at Lehigh.

This presentation served as a reminder that from the research and industry perspective, Bioengineering is a constantly growing branch of engineering, especially within the medical devices field.

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Organic Chemistry

Ever wondered what it’s like to have your worst nightmare come true? Like in a horror film where all protagonists have to deal with some scary evil? Well that’s how I felt Monday afternoon when I was taking my 4 o’clock exam for organic chemistry. Except there was no happy ending… just a sinking feeling that I chose Answer B when instead it should have been Answer C for Question 13 AND I drew a molecule in the opposite direction for Question 3.

And although general chemistry has never been a strong subject of mine, with organic chemistry, I have come to develop a love-hate kind of relationship with the subject. Cis and trans isomers, chair conformations, alkanes and alkenes…. it’s all mumbo jumbo at first, but once I start reading the text, what the professor mentioned in class Monday morning starts making sense. This class is a slow work in progress for me and I know that it’s going to be tough to learn everything throughout the semester, but as long as I understand what’s going on now, I should be ok. I can see that I have to put in more effort, but for now, it’s time I put more effort into my other classes since I have three other 4 o’clock exams coming up. The only thing that is keeping me going so far is this joke and the thought that someone, somewhere out there in a pharmaceutical industry, is developing pain-killers and synthesizing other drugs by using their organic chemistry knowledge. It’s a crazy thought but it’s happening!

organic chem joke

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TEDxLehighRiver and Innovation Alley

For of those of you who aren’t aware of the magic of TED talks, they are a series of talks given throughout a variety of inspiring topics from religion to business to art and empowerment. Throughout the last few years, TEDx talks have been growing in popularity as small-scale conferences that have taken place all over the world. And this past Saturday I had the honor of attending the local TEDxLehighRiver event in Allentown and got the chance to show off some of my prototypes from my Lehigh Mountaintop research project.

Lehigh Mountaintop programs debuted last summer as an opportunity for students to work on whatever idea or business venture they wanted to pursue. It gives undergraduate students the opportunities to discover their passions and actually develop that idea that would have previously just sat in the back of their minds. Since starting as a bioengineer at Lehigh I’ve been extremely interested in rehabilitative devices like prosthetics and orthotics so when I found out that I could join a team a students developing 3D printed exoskeletons, I jumped at the opportunity.

And we got to work in this awesome building that used to be owned by Bethlehem Steel.

I worked with a team of Lehigh students, Daniel Levy, Elena Ramirez, Jeff Peisner, and Sam He to develop a series of 3D printed exoskeletons. When most people hear the word “exoskeletons” they usually think of some kind of superheroes. While a lot of our devicess did have a bit of a superhero flair, they were all designed to assist patients who had lost muscle control during strokes or accidents. Dan, Elena, and Jeff focused on developing hand exoskeletons to assist stroke patients who were relearning fine motor skills such as the gross/grasp function of the hand. Meanwhile I was working on an exoskeleton that focused on strengthening the bicep of patients who had suffered acute bicep injuries after some sort of trauma or accident. We decided to focus on 3D printing as a means of making these devices because it allowed for full customization for devices to suit a wide range of patient sizes and needs. 3D printing also has the added benefit of being a technology that someone could make in their homes or at the nearest printing facility – by open sourcing our technology on Thingiverse we are able to bring health care options directly to occupational therapists and patients all around the world. (Shameless plug: check out our Thingiverse designs here, here, here, and here!)

So since Elena and Jeff have already graduated, Dan and I headed out to Allentown to display our exoskeletons in Innovation Alley, a hallway dedicated entirely to cool student projects, while people funneled in to listen to the talks. Some really cool people stopped by the booth to ask us questions and ask if we had any plans for expanding our device line. It was great to get to hear people get excited about 3D printing technology and ask me genuine questions about my device.

The theme of the day was”Why not?” and I had the pleasure to hear from six great speakers about how we can speak to whales through music, why we should increase spatial learning skills for kids, how we should remain skeptics, among other truly intriguing topics. We shouldn’t be intimidated by large thoughts or big plans and instead we should focus on embracing and exploring them – which is a big takeaway from what would have been a very average Saturday otherwise.

All in all, a truly inspirational day!

All in all, a truly inspirational day!

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After a brief hiatus….

…..I’m back!

Last year I was off doing other work and didn’t have the time to keep up with the blog but here I am to let you know all the shenanigans that come with being a senior bioengineer here at Lehigh! My first few posts are going to fill anyone in on the things that you missed in my life last year (from studying abroad to research) and then it’s going to move forward to all the fun that this year brings me along with some inside – information from some professors!

So stay tuned for more updates!

Enjoy the start of school!

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Metals in Artificial Joints

In my Inorganic Biomaterials class this semester we learn about different materials that have applications in medical devices and how they are used. I’ve learned about metals, ceramics, and composites and how they are processed to improve how they work in the body. We have learned a lot about metals because they are one of the most widely used materials in implants and we’ve recently been focusing on artificial hips. These artificial joints are usually made of a combination of materials with the stem constructed out of titanium or cobalt-chromium. For hip joints the round head is usually cobalt-chromium or ceramic, and the cup that it fits into is made of a polymer, although some are metal or ceramic.

Artificial Hip

The stem is made of metal in all artificial hips to make sure that it is strong enough to withstand the forces in the joint. The problem is that metals are too strong. The metal stem is stronger than the bone that it is implanted into, so it will tend to take on most of the forces that are applied to the joint. The problem is that bone is a living material and when it doesn’t feel the compression forces it normally would it begins to weaken. This can cause loosening as the implant separates from the bone. So, contrary to what you would think, we  actually want metal that is weaker so that it better matches the natural properties of bone.

Bone and MetalAnother problem is that metal and bone have very different structures. The smooth surface of metal is nothing like the porous structure inside our bones. Osteoblasts, the cells that make bone don’t attach well to the smooth surface of metal, so bone won’t grow around the implant to hold it in place. To change this people have developed different ways of added metal coatings to implants that look more like the structure of bone. The osteoblasts like this surface better than the normal smooth surface, so the bone is more likely to grow around the implant, holding it in place and making it more difficult to dislodge. The picture on the right shows bone (left) growing on Trabecular Metal (right) which has been engineered to mimic the natural structure of bone.

Basically, scientists are working to try and make the metal in artificial joints more like bone so that the body responds better to it.

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How Chemotherapy Drugs Work

In my Cell Biology class we recently had a discussion about a scientific paper called: Phosphorylation of Mcl-1 by CDK1–cyclin B1 initiates its Cdc20-dependent destruction during mitotic arrest. That’s quite a mouthful, and as a scientific paper it’s pretty complex and difficult for the average person, but it offers and explanation for how many chemotherapy drugs which are used to treat cancer are actually able to kill the cancer cells. That may sound pretty basic, but we have actually been using these drugs without really understanding how they kill cells. We have known that these drugs (including Taxol, Nocadazole, Vinblastine, and Vincristine) limit the normally dynamic nature of microtubules, which are usually constantly breaking down and rebuilding in different ways to allow changes in the cell, but didn’t know why this made cells die.

The rearrangement of microtubules, which act as a form of structural support within the cell, is most important and dynamic during mitosis (cellular replication) when the microtubules help ensure that the DNA is separated properly between the two new cells. The picture above shows how microtubules (green) have to rearrange in the different stages of cell division (going from a to f) to properly separate the DNA (blue). When dividing cells are treated with these chemo drugs, their microtubules aren’t able to rearrange and help the chromosomes align and separate properly and they get stuck in mitosis. Scientists knew that this happened, but not how that would cause the cells to die.

This paper identified a protein (Mcl-1) which acts as a timer during cell division, if the cell takes too long to divide the protein signals the cell to die. Mitosis was not thought of as a timed process, it continues for as long as it takes until the DNA is properly divided and the two new cells separate. This shows that when something goes wrong and the cell becomes stuck, like when treated with these types of chemo drugs, it will go through a controlled death process. Since cancer cells are dividing at a much higher rate than normal, healthy cells, mostly cancer cells are affected.

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Cell Video

Over the years I’ve taken a lot of different Biology courses and in many of them I’ve watched the same animated video of a cell. The first time was in my high school AP Biology class where we would ask the teacher to watch it at least every other week. When I got to Lehigh and started my first college Biology class the professor played the exact same video and a lot of my other bio classes since have also shown it or clips from it.The Inner Life of the Cell

It’s called “The Inner Life of the Cell” and was made by a company called XVIVO for Harvard University’s BioVisions. Basically its a really cool video, even if you don’t know whats going on in it, that shows different mechanisms inside the cell that allow a white blood cell to sense and respond to changes in its surroundings. It has cool animations with beautiful background music. In high school, that pretty much why we wanted to watch it, but as I’ve gone through more Biology classes I’ve learned more about what the video actually shows. We watched a clip recently in my Cell Biology class after we learned about how microtubules ( a protein structure inside the cell that helps support it and give it its shape) assemble. That’s this part:

Microtubules in The Inner Life of the CellLater, when I rewatched the video, I realized that I actually understand a lot about what’s going on in the video now. I can appreciate it for the science that it rather than just the interesting visuals and nice music.

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