Innovations That Improve Life: How Stevens’ Undergraduate Research Is Changing the World
Award-winning biomedical engineering professor Vikki Hazelwood Ph.D. ’07 has made her presence felt since arriving at Stevens in 2003 by evolving the program into a research powerhouse and mentoring hundreds of senior design students in collaborative projects. Two recent projects could soon come to market in hospitals and medical centers.
Ureteral stents present a painful, longstanding design problem: how to develop a thin, strong device that works to accommodate urinary flow within the body while also preventing dangerous infection and calcification — and remaining easily retractable.
Physicians at one of the metropolitan New York City region’s leading hospitals, Hackensack Meridian Health at Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC), decided to look at the challenge with fresh eyes in 2018 with the help of four talented Stevens seniors, part of a National Academy of Inventors (NAI) student chapter working under the careful mentorship of Hazelwood and lecturer Becky Tucci.
The result: a novel medical device unique enough to have already earned a provisional patent.
“This absolutely has the potential to make patient impact,” says HUMC urology chair Dr. Michael Stifelman, who worked with the student team. “There’s no current stent that works like this. I brought the problem, and they developed an amazing potential solution.”
The device works by replacing the J-shaped coil at one end of a standard ureteral stent with a ring-shaped neodymium magnet that keeps the stent from contacting the bladder while also allowing for easy retrieval. The magnet is covered with polymer material to help slow the growth of painful, dangerous calcium crystals and biofilms on the stent head.
“It was a great exercise for us to get deeply into this challenge,” recalls Mithin Nair ’19, who continues to refine the new system and explore other electromagnetics applications in the university’s labs. “It’s pretty exciting that our design appears to be a realistic solution.”
Once the system is ready, Nair envisions clinical trials as the next logical step. The device could also one day be upgraded with cameras, onboard batteries, improved materials or other enhancements.
“They are a fantastic team, extremely engaged,” notes Stifelman.
Another team tackled the need for patients to self-administer small doses of oxygen quickly and portably in puffs, often in public spaces.
The resulting product, a handheld device, holds the potential to assist panic attack sufferers and asthmatics who may not be able to tote cumbersome oxygen tanks.
“We are always pleased to connect student ingenuity and passion with the needs of industry,” summarizes Hazelwood. “Stevens has developed a special talent for building these bridges and helping ideate the next great innovations in these spaces, and members of our NAI student chapter are instrumental in this.”