Nebraska Engineering Fall, 2005
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The Future of Nebraska Engineering
Bio-medical Engineering and Engineered Bio-resources

Discovering innovative ways to heal the human body is a goal of several College of Engineering researchers.

We're going to make life difficult for those trying to come up with new strains of biological agents.-Michal MeagherWilliam Velander, a chemical engineering professor, created the fibrinogen bandage, a potentially life-saving technology to be used on patients who lose large amounts of blood. When applied, the bandage immediately begins clotting the wound. Velander hopes the fibrinogen bandage will reduce the number of soldier casualties on the battlefield. “With combat wounds and other kinds of catastrophic injuries, the body can’t mobilize enough natural plasma fibrinogen and other clotting system components to the wound site to stop bleeding,” Velander said. Fibrinogen made from human plasma is scarce andexpensive, so Velander developed a process for producing it from transgenic pigs—pigs bred with a human gene that enables them to produce fibrinogen.

Soldiers also could benefit from Shane Farritor’s groundbreaking surgical tool. Farritor, associate professor of mechanical engineering, along with University of Nebraska Medical Center researchers, is developing small surgical robots that could enable medics on the battlefield to gain better access to a wound. His team is working on two robots that could give surgeons better visibility of an injury and explore areas typically inaccessible to normal laparoscopic cameras; for example, the abdomen. “You don’t know how slick, hilly and soft it is in there,” Farritor said. “But we’ve developed a wheel design that allows for the necessary mobility.”

Susan Hallbeck, in collaboration with physicians at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, has developed an ergonomic surgical tool. The IntuiTool™ is easier for surgeons to manipulate than traditional laparoscopic tools, minimizing the risk of infection and speeding recovery time for patients. “Current tools are essentially regular surgical tools on a long stick,” said Hallbeck, an associate professor of industrial engineering. The breakthrough in the IntuiTool™ is in the articulation function—the grasper end rotates up to 120 degrees using a roller ball the surgeon actuates using a thumb. “Essentially, the IntuiTool™ gives you a wrist on the tool,” Hallbeck said. The product received an honorable mention in the User-Centered Product Design Award from the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society in 2004.

Chemical engineering professor Michael Meagher is using the laboratory to fight the war on terror with a $6.5 million grant to create processes for the development of a botulism vaccine. Meagher’s research is one project of the Biological Process Development Facility, which produces vaccines and therapeutics to treat people who have been exposed to biological warfare agents and viruses. “We’re going to make life difficult for those trying to come up with new strains of biological agents,” Meagher said.

Hendrik Viljoen, a chemical engineering professor, and George Gogos, a mechanical engineering professor, received a $1.44 million grant over five years from the National Institutes of Health to develop faster Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology. PCR is a technique for amplifying DNA to enable gene sequencing and identification. DNA amplification takes three or four hours with current technology, but a portable device created by Viljoen and Gogos allows amplification to take place in just 10 to 15 minutes. As PCR technology advances, scientists may someday be able to diagnose a viral strain or deadly pathogen on site. “This device makes our technology amenable to field usage,” Viljoen said. “And it can handle volumes from 5 microliters to 40 microliters with outstanding sensitivity while producing a high yield.”