15:44 PM

Professional MS Project Feature: "Aware Compression"

Aware Compression Team

I recently had the opportunity to speak with 2023 MS-MPE graduates Maura Siess, Megan Johns, Connor Kerstetter, and Boyan Zhang to learn more about the success of their class project in the Swanson School of Engineering Design Expo. The team’s project “Aware Compression” won first-place in the medical product category.

MS-MPE program students are required to take a two-part course series in their second and third (final) semesters. The first course, Clinical Bioengineering, focuses on the early stages of innovation. Students work with a clinical mentor to observe or shadow in the clinic to identify unmet clinical needs with the goal of developing a technical solution. During the second course, Medical Product Prototyping, students take the conceptual solution developed in the previous course and create a prototype that can undergo pre-clinical or clinical evaluation. 

One team formed from this two-part course sequence included Maura Siess, Megan Johns, Connor Kerstetter, and Boyan Zhang. This team set out to discover unmet clinical needs within the cardiovascular field. The team connected with Dr. Ulka Sachdev, MD the site chief of vascular surgery at Magee-Womens Hospital. When the team approached Dr. Sachdev, she presented a project that involved patients who have been diagnosed with central venous insufficiency (CVI). Patients who experience CVI have poor blood circulation from the lower extremities back to the heart. Before surgical intervention can occur, patients must undergo lower limb compression therapy.

The main concern with CVI patients is low compliance in wearing their compression socks during compression therapy. The team researched many reasons as to why the compliance rate was so low and discovered that the main issue is that the socks are difficult to get on. While there are many different products that adddress this issue, the team set out to find a novel solution. By the end of the Clinical Bioengineering course, they had developed a solution that involved a “boa constricting” mechanism in which the sock would be put on loosely and then tightened. 

Another key problem is that there is no way for the physician to know if patients are wearing their compression socks. This is important because they must be worn for 3 months before surgical intervention can be considered. During the Fall 2023 semester, the team had to make a pivot in their primary solution: how might a physician be able to remotely monitor CVI patient compliance in wearing compression socks.

With this pivot the team set out to identify different sensors that may meet physician needs. The sensors that they tested measured motion, pressure, and temperature. The team quickly discovered that motion and pressure sensors would not be feasible. At this point, the team began testing continuous body temperature sensors in the compression sock. Not only did they discover that this could be used to determine patient compliance in wearing compression socks, but the system could also aid in the detection of ulcer development characterized by elevated skin temperature. This discovery expanded the clinical value of their solution since CVI patients often experience venous ulcers. By the end of the semester, the team was able to develop a testable prototype.

As part of the Medical Product Prototyping course, the team participated in the Swanson School of Engineering Design Expo. In December 2023 the Swanson School of Engineering hosted its 18th expo where undergraduate and graduate students showcased their project work. Megan Johns described her experience at the expo as follows:

“It was both exciting and fulfilling getting to present the project we had been working so hard on. It was also nice to see the interest of not only the judges but other attendees of the event who took in our project through their questions and advice on how they could see our compression stockings moving forward in the medical device industry.” 

This was the first time Boyan Zhang attended the expo in person. 

“The room was filled with conversations and laughter." Zhang noted. "Seeing people walking around, stopping by, and asking questions brought the interactivity to a new level.”