Stevens Senior Design Team Named Finalist for Collegiate Inventors Competition

Photo courtesy of Stevens Institute of Technology

Every year, the National Inventors Hall of Fame sponsors the Collegiate Inventors Competition. What is remarkable about the 2017 competition is that Stevens team was named as one of the six undergraduate team finalists in the nation for their senior design project, CerebroSense. The seniors involved in the project were Maria De Abreu Pineda, Andrew Falcone, and David Ferrara, under the guidance of their project advisors, biomedical engineering professor Dr. Vikki Hazelwood and Dr. Glen Atlas, an anesthesiologist at UMDNJ in Rutgers.

The seniors decided on this project after Dr. Glen Atlas explained brain pulsatility; the brain’s change in radius due to swelling, trauma, and other sudden changes, which is currently measured by surgeons placing a finger on the patient’s exposed brain and then deciding whether they believe the brain’s radius is changing and whether any immediate action is required. This practice leaves a copious amount of space for human error and can take up to 10 minutes. This can prevent a full recovery since the brain should not be without oxygen for more than two minutes, and it can cause complications after surgery. Team member Andrew Falcone said, “When the team heard this, we immediately said that there needed to be a better way to do this, as it baffled us that there was not a piece of technology to improve upon the monolithic way of measuring pulsatility for a surgery that pertains to one of the most complex organs of the body”. There are currently approximately 160,000 open-brain surgeries in the US per year, and roughly 20% of those result in complications, which is detrimental to a patient’s health and finances. Complications cost up to an additional $2 billion annually. The team was determined to develop a device that would provide accurate measurements within 60 seconds, decrease the pervasiveness of surgical complications, and lower costs.

CerebroSense can be brought into the operating room and be pointed at the brain from two to twenty inches away, never mandating physical contact. The device then projects sound waves towards the brain and completes the measurements in 30 to 60 seconds with an accuracy of less than 0.3 millimeters.

Although the group has already won first place at the Johnson & Johnson 2017 Engineering Showcase, when they initially began the project they did not know what they were getting into, other than committing a lot of time and effort to assiduously working on the endeavor like the rest of their peers. The implications of the project became more evident once the first prototype was finished, as David Ferrara stated, “ Once we completed the prototype, all three of us knew we had something that could be truly impactful. It was at that moment we started to see the value of the work we were doing, and how gaining local attention was only the beginning.”

All three members of the team have graduated, but they are still in constant contact with their academic advisors, Dr. Hazelwood and Dr. Gray, their clinical advisor, Dr. Atlas, and the student scholars who conducted further research this past summer. The project is still advancing as Maria De Abreu Pineda and David Ferrara said that the team of summer scholars “had an opportunity to further improve certain areas of the project, explore new avenues, and add new features, including the integration of a pressure transducer, which we are now incorporating into the system.” The team members are now preparing to present their project at various national conferences.

The team is honored to be one of the six undergraduate finalists in the 2017 Collegiate Inventors Competition and is motivated to keep research going in order to implicate this project on a larger scale. Although medical devices have a difficult time making it onto the market, the team is optimistic as research will continue and animal studies will begin in early 2018. Before the device can receive FDA approval it will need to pass pre-clinical and clinical tests and convince brain surgeons and anesthesiologists of its utility, but once it does it can make a significant impact in the operating room.