Sunday, July 11, 2010

Week 4 - Jen Richards

This past week was full of more very interesting surgeries. But this week was different in that I saw really how engineers can be of vital importance in the operating room. On Tuesday I observed a partial jaw replacement; a 20-year-old girl had a tumor in her jaw, which was removed. Then Dr. Spector removed her fibula, shaped it to the curve of the jaw, and replaced that part of the bone. All in all this was an extremely interesting surgery. But what interested me the most was the fact that there were two representatives from Stryker, a biomedical company, to aid the surgeons in the use of some of the equipment necessary for the surgery. In particular the surgeons wanted clarification on the orientation of bone plates, and the correct equipment needed for removal of the fibula. Of course, had orthopaedic surgeons been involved, they might not have needed this clarification, but the engineers were there to help. After the surgery, the surgeons conferred with the engineers to tell them what features they would have liked to see in the equipment. This was very interesting to me, and it seems like there is definitely a need for engineers who understand the workings inside an OR, in order to make better equipment and devices for more efficient and successful surgeries.

The next day dealt with fat. I had never seen a liposuction before, but for those of you who don't is really a small tube with suction, and the surgeon will repeatedly stab at the fat under the skin to loosen and suck it out. However, this was not being done for cosmetic reasons. All the fat that was removed from the abdomen area was used in a fat graft to put back into the face of a man who had a tumor removed. It was used purely for reconstructive purposes. In the next case, the fat removed from the abdomen and thighs were used for fat grafts in the breasts of a woman who had damaged tissue from radiation. More and more research has identified stem cells in adipose tissue, and so fat grafts have been historically very successful at reconstructing different damaged areas of the body. One thing I noticed however, was that the fat needed to be processed before it could be replaced in the body. When it is sucked out, it is in a liquid form, and the liquid needs to be taken out of the fat so it is solid enough to be placed back in the body. This process took awhile, and it occurred to me that here was the perfect place for an engineering solution to speed up the process. Perhaps this is one area where I can continue to ponder better procedures.

This was a very good and informative week. I can't believe we have only three weeks to go!

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