April 18, 2011
Biomedical Engineering students from Stevens Institute of Technology are keeping more athletes on the Astroturf by developing a device that monitors the angle of knee movement in injured players. This highly reliable method of assessing recovery after devastating knee injuries, most prevalent among athletes, can inform physicians and surgeons as to the best course of treatment. A presentation of their solution—a device called a knee goniometer—recently took first place in the 37th Annual Northeast Bioengineering Conference (NEBEC) Student Design Competition.
The goniometer, a microelectronic array of sensors that deduces the angle of knee movement, is the result of a Senior Design project involving Biomedical Engineering seniors Jaroslaw Lupinski, Patricia Roh, and Shing Cheung Yuen, and Varsha Menon, a first-year graduate student in BME. The concept for the device developed out of earlier work on knee angle measurement conducted by the team's advisor, Research Assistant Professor Antonio Valdevit.
"We are proud of this team, who competed amongst 57 teams that represented 17 other Biomedical Engineering programs in the northeast," says Dr. Vikki Hazelwood, Industry Professor and Associate Program Director of Biomedical Engineering. "Their success is a tribute to their hard work and the unique approach Stevens offers in the Senior Design program, offering the students elements of entrepreneurship and practical technology development throughout their engineering education."
A torn ACL or PCL is a common, and dreaded, injury that can bench an athlete for months. While professional sports teams can afford the time and equipment to monitor their players' knee health during recovery to ensure ideal treatment, the average patient may not have access to the tools available to reveal how a torn ligament is healing.
"Physicians need an inexpensive way to study the knee that is also easy to use," Shing says. As opposed to current techniques involving complex systems in a static facility, the team's new measurement device is embedded within an everyday knee cuff. It is so mobile that athletes can wear it while practicing, allowing even non-injured players to constantly monitor their knee health.
The student team sees economic benefits for many stakeholders in the medical industry.
"We looked at the statistics and saw that in a year almost 300,000 ligament injuries occur, many requiring expensive surgeries," Varsha reports. "With the more accurate measurement we are providing, insurance companies can save money and patients can have better recovery by avoiding unnecessary surgeries."
The team reports that their goniometer received unexpected, positive attention from industry representatives at the NEBEC student competition.
"We thought it was just an academic poster competition," says Jaroslaw, who represented the team at NEBEC. "But it was actually an elevator pitch competition in disguise. It turned out that the five judges were all CEOs of companies in the biomedical device industry."
As a two-time Stevens elevator pitch competitor and a Technogenesis scholar, Jaroslaw was familiar with the language of industry and naturally tailored his presentation to the interests of potential investors. "We won first place because of all the other experiences I have had at Stevens pitching ideas to investors," he states.
The NEBEC win only enhances the already rewarding Senior Design experience for the students. "This project united biology, medicine, and engineering and allowed us as undergraduate students to really help physicians," Patricia claims. "We hope to get a patent and bring this product to the market."
The team is currently working towards patent disclosure and preparing for another competition: the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineers New Jersey Chapter Student Poster Competition on April 21. If the team wins at these regionals, they have a chance to advance to the international competition later this year.
"Stevens has won the international competition for the last two years in a row," Jaroslaw says. "Hopefully we'll make it a three-year streak."
NEBEC, hosted at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY on April 1-3, introduced the student competition for the first time this year. The title of the team's winning presentation was, "Measuring Knee Compliance to Facilitate Post-Op Ligament Rehabilitation."