Medicine Meets MacGyver

Biomedical Engineering Design Project Showcase is where science and medicine meet good, old-fashioned ingenuity

A cheap and portable diagnostics device fashioned from your basic laser jet printer and a children’s toy. A look at how every day common foods can help overcome chemotherapy drug resistance in lung cancer cells. This is where science and medicine meets good, old-fashioned ingenuity, and it’s a student affair.

The annual BME346 Design Project poster event, held earlier this week at the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME), showcases some of the remarkable talents emerging from the “Biomedical Engineering and ‘Omics Technologies” class. The class provides a broad overview of biomedical engineering technologies in conjunction with intensive in-lab experience for students in Biomedical Systems Engineering in the Division of Engineering Science.

“The students did a fantastic job,” stated course instructor Assistant Professor Dawn Kilkenny, “particularly when considering […] the constraints they faced at the onset.” Teh students spent just four weeks on the projects, from inception to outcome, and had a budget of a mere $100.

But even on a shoestring budget, the Design Projects represent future medical breakthroughs.

Third-year students Aditya Martowirogo and Jenny Qian studied chemotherapy drug resistance in lung cancer cells – cells that are able to pump out chemotherapy drugs before they can take effect. Hoping to overcome this significant hurdle in cancer care, the students looked to foods commonly known for their high antioxidant value and their effect on chemo-drug resistance at the cellular level. The team introduced into cells the compounds in blueberries, ginger, tea and carrots, and studied the pumping mechanism in the cells that are known to affect drug resistance.

Surprisingly, the team concluded that ginger was the most effective in making certain the chemo drugs were able to remain in the cancer cells and complete their work, even over a significant time lapse. Blueberries, the food most highly touted for its antioxidants, came in second.

And the other foods? “Carrots and tea didn’t work,” confirmed Qian.

Global health challenges, such as the ability to test for viruses like malaria and HIV, are a leading health issue in developing nations, both due to the high cost and the need for expertise and equipment.

It was the perfect challenge for the team of Avinash Kondiboyina and Danielle Hayes, both third-year students.

Using less reagents than traditional diagnostic tests but allowing technicians to see the results with the naked eye, microfluidic devices are enjoying greater popularity in medical circles as a cheaper alternative to research and diagnostics, especially for nations that can ill-afford the cost.

But even getting microfluidic tools into the hands of those who can best use them is difficult, explained Kondiboyina.

“The standard test for diseases such as HIV in developing nations is called the ELISA test, but the cost of making a microfluidic device [to run the test] could be in excess of $200,” he says. Even though the microfluidic devices represent a cost-savings measure in the long run, the relatively small price tag puts this testing apparatus out of range for some.

So Kondiboyina and Hayes fashioned a new microfluidic device from Shrinky Dinks, a popular children’s toy consisting of sheets of thin plastic that shrink and harden when baked, and a common laser jet printer. The team then tested their device against popularly-manufactured models, and declared that theirs represented a viable alternative.

The cost of assembling this new diagnostic device: a mere $8.50.

“BME346 has been quite unique this year,” added co-course instructor, Assistant Professor Rodrigo Fernandez-Gonzalez of the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering.

This year the Design Projects were boosted by the generous loan of important research equipment such as a qPCR (a machine that amplifies DNA sequences so that they are more easily detected) from Fisher Scientific, and two confocal microscopes from Olympus.

On the other hand, given a bit more time, the students might have been able to build their own.