Clemson start-up getting noticed see more
When innovation and expertise meet practicality, the result is not quite magic, but it sure is close.
This is the strength behind Aravis BioTech, a startup headed in part by Jeffrey Anker of the College of Science and John DesJardins of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, as well as Dr. Caleb Behrend, an orthopedic surgeon in Arizona specializing in the spine. The team is developing screws used in orthopedic surgery that employ easy-to-use sensors to determine the status of fracture healing. This, in turn, helps physicians know when patients can safely apply weight to their healing fracture.
Aravis BioTech is one of three finalists for the InnoVision Technology Development Award. InnoVision is a non-profit organization that fosters the growth of South Carolina’s innovation economy and recognizes leadership, innovation and technological excellence.
“My background is in analytical chemistry – which means I make sensors,” said Anker, a professor in the Department of Chemistry.
Anker and DesJardins, a professor in the Department of Bioengineering, met on a bus at a student NASA project at the Marshall Space Flight Center in 2010. The pair decided to bring their work together to develop a medical implant that would change color as a fracture healed. Through a grant from SC BioCRAFT (Bioengineering Center for Regeneration and Formation of Tissues) and an NIH grant, they developed screws that changed color based on how tight they were.
But Dr. Behrend, a spine surgeon and longtime friend and collaborator of Anker’s, said that such a sensor would be more practical if surgeons could see it on an X-ray.
“Most Americans will break a couple of bones, on average, in their lifetime,” Anker said. “If it’s a bad break and you can’t just put a cast on it, they need to put in hardware. That’s where those screws come in.”
An X-ray doesn’t show how well a bone is healing. Between the break and full healing, there is an intermediate phase where the repaired fracture can and should bear weight – the question is how much.
“Maybe it can take your weight for a bit, but it will eventually fatigue and fail,” Anker said. “Similar to a paper clip, I can bend it a lot, but if I go back and forth, back and forth, eventually it will fail. The same thing happens with these implants. That’s a huge problem.”
Consider a hip fracture. Anker said one in 10 Americans will break hips. Rather than replacing the hip, the most common repair is to secure the ball back to the femur with a simple screw.
“People are encouraged to bear weight immediately, but if it’s not healing, the screw will probably eventually cut out of the bone or there will be other mechanical failures,” Anker said. “That happens rarely, but when it happens, it’s devastating.”
The screw is positioned into the bone repair with a wire guided through its hollow core. Aravis BioTech’s implanted device enhances the screw.
“We add a straight piece to the bottom of the hollow screw so that when it bends, this straight piece moves relative to the screw casing,” Anker said. “We make that straight piece out of a material that is dark on X-rays. You can see how much the screw is bending, quantify how much load is on it and be able to track the patient’s progress.”
The implant can help surgeons determine whether the device has been tightened sufficiently during surgery. And because load can lead to postoperative failure, it can help determine whether the patient is at an optimum activity level or if activity needs to be reduced until further healing takes place. Once the bone has healed, the hardware typically stays in and becomes superfluous.
A technology translation grant from the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (ICORPS) program to Clemson University allowed the Aravis team to interview a variety of stakeholders, including physicians, patients, physical therapists, insurance executives and hospital administrators to determine if the team is making a device that best meets the needs of patients. A South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA) Acceleration Grant helped fund prototypes.
The team is expanding the idea to plates and other devices, as well as to sensors that can track infection based on chemical changes.
In addition to Aravis BioTech’s honor as an InnoVision Technology Development Award finalist, all four finalists for InnoVision’s COVID-19 Response – Technology Research Award are from Clemson University, including the COVID Microbead Screening Project, a team mentored by Anker, which also won the Clemson COVID Challenge, a summer virtual research and design opportunity. The team investigated a quick COVID-19 test that uses minimal, easily accessed equipment.
Clemson targets fix for mask shortage see more
(Courtesy, Paul Alongi, Clemson College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences)
Melinda Harman of Clemson University is volunteering her time to explore how hospitals could wash and sanitize medical masks without having to ship them elsewhere or buy an expensive piece of equipment.
A device that Harman designed to hold multiple N95 masks is central to her idea. It would help ensure the masks maintain their shape while being washed so that they continue to fit securely around the mouth and nose, said Harman, an associate professor of bioengineering and director of Clemson University’s Medical Device Recycling and Reprocessing program, or GreenMD.
The masks help prevent healthcare workers from inhaling the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and have been in short supply since the pandemic began.
As part of her work, Harman said she has engaged three leading healthcare companies that offer expertise in detergents and decontamination. She is testing different kinds of detergents to find the best solution for cleaning mucus and proteins from the masks.
The detergents are commercially available and already used by hospitals to clean other types of medical equipment.
Harman said that her goal is “to validate a cleaning process that is compatible with existing capabilities and equipment commonly available at hospitals in South Carolina and worldwide.”
The challenge is “to avoid interfering with mask performance, while effectively cleaning the masks without degrading their filtering capacity,” she said.
Harman added, “Working with innovative industry partners is a considerable advantage, with everyone on the team willing to contribute a potential solution. They are providing reliable products that are already proven to meet routine reprocessing challenges in healthcare delivery.”
Harman said one of the advantages to her approach is that many hospitals already have the ability to clean medical equipment, even if they aren’t yet applying it to the masks. That means hospitals wouldn’t need to buy any capital equipment, she said.
Further, the masks would stay at the hospital, reducing travel time, the risk of spreading contamination outside of the hospital and the additional burden on an already-stressed logistics system, Harman said.
“The technology I’m working on is meant to be used broadly, compatible with existing reprocessing practices that are already in hospitals,” Harman said. “It’s intended for rapid deployment in health care settings, and it’s meant to be compatible with any sterilization system.”
Harman added, “Cleaning masks before sterilization enables more masks to be reused Right now, guidelines for sterilization require N95 masks to be inspected and discarded if they are ‘soiled.’ My idea is to reliably clean masks to remove both the visible and ‘invisible’ soils, making the entire reuse process safer.”
Martine LaBerge, chair of the Department of Bioengineering, said that Harman is well qualified to lead the work.
Harman has conducted extensive research into reuse and reprocessing of medical equipment. As director of GreenMD, she engages students in industry-driven research targeting healthcare needs in South Carolina and broader global health challenges. GreenMD is the nation’s only engineering-focused program for medical device design targeted for reprocessing and reuse.
“Dr. Harman has built a career on developing innovative ways to reprocess and reuse medical equipment that is normally disposable, which uniquely positions her to have a global impact,” LaBerge said. “I thank her for her service to South Carolina, the nation and the globe as we join together in the face of the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19.”
Harman said that if her idea works, used masks would be sent to central sterilization facilities within hospitals. The device she designed would hold the masks while they are cleaned. After cleaning, the masks would go through a separate sterilization process to get rid of any lingering microorganisms, including coronavirus.
The mask-holder that Harman designed could be 3D-printed, she said. However, she is focusing on more rapid manufacturing approaches using common acrylic materials. The technology could be readily adapted in hospitals from South Carolina to India, Harman said.
She recently disclosed the technology to the Clemson University Research Foundation, setting it on the path to commercialization and raising the potential for widespread use.
Harman said what’s been most interesting to her is that her previous work with resource-poor countries has come home to the United States, with disrupted supply chains and inadequate supplies at the point of need.
“That’s exactly the situation we’ve been working on with other countries,” Harman said. “For me that’s just been a startling change. It’s been amazing to see how many people have become interested in the topic of safe and sustainable reuse and how many unique solutions they come up with. I hope that creative energy continues, because it can solve a lot of global health problems.”
Multimillion-dollar grant to support heart health research at Clemson University see more
Clemson University bioengineers picked Valentine’s Day to announce $4.1 million in grants to support new heart health research.
Will Richardson and Naren Vyavahare are conducting research with the potential to affect millions of patients who suffer from many forms of cardiovascular disease and related illness, including heart failure, hypertension, chronic kidney disease and Type 2 diabetes, according to a university news release.
Richardson, an assistant professor of bioengineering, is creating computer models aimed at providing better treatment for cardiac fibrosis, a condition that contributes to heart failure. As many as 60% of patients die within five years of developing heart failure, which afflicts 6.5 million Americans, Richardson said in the news release.
No drugs have been approved to treat cardiac fibrosis specifically, and doctors are often left with trial-and-error experimentation when treating patients who have it, he said in the release.
Richardson said he hopes his research will lead to a day when measurements from a patient’s blood or tissue sample can be plugged into mathematical equations based on how molecules interact in the body. Overnight, patients would have personalized risk assessments and treatments plan, he said in the release.
Details about his research is available online.
Vyavahare, the Hunter Endowed Chair of Bioengineering, is working on what could be the first treatment to reverse vascular calcification, a condition that occurs when mineral deposits build up on blood vessel walls and stiffen them, according to the news release. It is most prevalent in aging patients and those with chronic kidney disease and Type 2 diabetes, Vyavahare said. Complications from vascular calcification can range from hypertension to death.
The nanoparticles that Vyavahare is developing are many times smaller than the width of a human hair and would deliver two medicines to calcified blood vessels. One medicine would remove the mineral deposits that cause blood vessels to become calcified, and another would return elasticity to the blood vessels.
More details about his work is online.
The Richardson and Vyavahare projects were both funded through the National Institutes of Health’s R01 program. Richardson is receiving $1.9 million, and Vyavahare is receiving $2.2 million, the news release said.
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, congratulated Richardson and Vyvahare on their grants.
Agneta Simionescu, an assistant professor of bioengineering, has also received $1.38 million through the R01 program. The Simionescu award was announced in November and is aimed at better understanding cardiovascular disease in patients with diabetes, the news release said.
Richardson and Simionescu were among the faculty members trained as part of SC BioCRAFT, a National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence. The center’s primary goal is to increase the number of South Carolina biomedical researchers who are supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.
Vyavahare leads SC BioCRAFT, which stands for the South Carolina Bioengineering Center for Regeneration and Formation of Tissues.
Clemson University ranks fourth among America's 50 best value schools for biomedical engineering... see more
Clemson University came in fourth among the nation’s 50 best value schools for biomedical engineering, according to a new ranking from bestvalueschools.com.
The ranking included a variety of factors, including graduation rate, accreditation date, degree popularity, engineering popularity and net price.
Martine LaBerge, SCBIO Board Member and chair of the Department of Bioengineering at Clemson, said the ranking underscores that students are receiving a high-quality education that remains affordable.
“Best Value Schools has done an impeccable job of describing our program,” she said. “The ranking is a result of our faculty’s hard work and dedication to giving our students not only the best-in-class instruction and experience but also great value.”
The website advised students to “get ready to get hands-on at Clemson University.”
“Just about every day at Clemson includes some type of laboratory study, research project, or side-by-side work with faculty,” according to the site.
“Coursework doesn’t spare the details, either; the curriculum goes far beyond the basics to teach students about orthopedic implants, EKG simulations, medical treatment in developing countries, tissue engineering for human organs, and plenty of other topics that will immediately translate into the work environment.
“And students don’t have to wait until graduation to test out their skills. International partnerships enable budding engineers to conduct research in Singapore, work with mentors in Japan, or study bioethics in Spain.”
The department graduated 158 students last year, including 106 undergraduates, 37 master’s students and 15 doctoral students. It has 26 tenured or tenure-track faculty members conducting bioengineering research and clinically embedded education in partnership with the Greenville Health System and the Medical University of South Carolina.
Citing numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the website reported that demand for biomedical engineers will increase by nearly 25 percent by 2024, which it says is much faster than the average occupation. The average salary for specialists in the field is more than $85,000 a year, according to the site.
Clemson came in behind the Georgia Institute of Technology, Rice University, and the University of California-Irvine. The University of Utah rounded out the top five.
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of Clemson’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, congratulated the bioengineering department on the ranking.
“This is a well-deserved honor that underscores the high return on investment our students receive,” he said. “The college will continue to offer access to top faculty, world-class facilities and enriching experiences, while ensuring investment returns remain strong for our students and their families.”
To see the full list of rankings, go to: https://www.bestvalueschools.com/rankings/biomedical-engineering-degrees/.