One bioengineering Senior Design team came together through circumstance to focus on utilizing miniature devices to help reduce the need for harvesting human cells. They also found teamwork and camaraderie along the way.

When you walk into the lab to meet the Senior Design team advised by Dr. Evangelia Bellas, the first thing you notice isn't test tubes or medical device components. It's laughter.

 

Hunched over a test chamber and looking through a glass partition, Mike Struss is patiently working through a phase of the project that seems to require deft hands. But he's steady. Even surrounded by his teammates, all poking good fun at his being under pressure, that is.

"We're working on what are called 'microfluidic devices' which try and mimic how blood vessels, capillaries, organs and tissues work," Struss said. Growing cells in traditional dishes yields a 2D layer of cells, which is not how cells actually exist in your body.

Using devices like these would reduce the need for more reagents, or human cells, giving researchers and physicians more latitude to perform tests on an object with similar properties to human cells without harvesting more of them.

According to the CDC, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, as are 17 percent of children. And patients suffering from obesity are just one group that would help. Patients with pancreatic issues, for example—theoretically with fewer cells to give—could benefit from tests on these devices.

This kind of project—or any project, really—excels thanks to team members trusting each other, working together and offsetting one's weakness with another's strengths.

At first glance, that kind of cohesion would likely come from students who've known and worked together for a while, but that's not the case.

"We were all in different parts of school. I took off for a co-op, Mike had to move around his schedule, one of us was switching majors. One of us transferred," added Casey Hobel. "It wasn't desperate or anything," she said as the team laughed.

"We all just needed partners. And it's actually worked out really well. We work great together. We all do our part."

Their advisor agreed.

"I think they've been a great team. They've figured out each other's strengths, so they're adapting to one another's different roles. The other bonus for them is that they get each other's company," Dr. Bellas said.

By the end of the project, look for this team and their miniature devices to yield big results.

UPDATE: The "Little Chubby Chip" team took the First Place honors for Senior Design!

Follow along our coverage of this semester's Senior Design teams on social media with #TUSeniorDesign2017, and stop by the poster presentations on December 9.