Transcript: Lab Rat: Engineering Undergrad Aids Research on Lung Function

Katie Accomando, mechanical engineering with a bio-medical engineering focus.

Katie is researching lung mechanics in the lab of Dr. Jason Bates.

Bates: Katie first came to the lab the year before last. She wanted to see what it was like to be in a real bioengineering lab. So I saw in Katie a bright, young student with quantitative engineering experience, which was exactly what I needed. So I suggested she familiarize herself with the equipment. I put her onto that, and she became the local expert in using this plethysmographic system.

Accomando: A plethysmograph is essentially a body box. It's a closed system in which a subject is placed, usually unrestrained, as in humans, and that's what we're trying to do with the plethysmograph in the lab. In this closed system, you condition the box to meet the conditions of the air in the lungs, so humidify it and heat it up to match exactly the conditions of the lung. From there, you can generate graphs of pressure changes in which you measure the breathing frequency of the subject. You can also measure the change in volume in the lung to measure tidal volume and compare this to different models of disease or to healthy lungs. It's a good, non-invasive way of measuring lung function.

I spent one semester going into my junior year learning how to operate this body box and how the tiniest little change will affect its accuracy. Yeah, it's been tough, but it's definitely a worthwhile learning experience.

Bates: As well as just learning how to use it, she's actually interacted with a number of other faculty within the Vermont Lung Center, helping them to use the device to measure their own mouse models of various diseases. Katie was able to help Dr. Anne Dixon, for example, study fat mice, mice that are unnaturally heavy, shall we say. And, of course, if such mice do develop asthma-like symptoms, which is what she was interested in studying, then the UVAP system is a way of tracking weather those symptoms develop over time.

Accomando: I think everyone should do hands-on learning. It should be incorporated, definitely, into your coursework. You can have engineering students who get As in all their classes and know all these theories, but when it comes to taking apart a car, they have no idea how to use a wrench. I think having this technical experience is essential.

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