Rensselaer Engineering Students To Visit South Africa and Help Innovate New Solutions to Unique Medical Challenges

December 22, 2011

Rensselaer Engineering Students To Visit South Africa and Help Innovate New Solutions to Unique Medical Challenges

Biomedical Engineering Students To Visit Remote and Under-Resourced Medical Clinics

Biomedical engineering students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will travel to South Africa next month on a mission to identify the unique needs of remote, under-resourced medical clinics. The students will use these findings and field observations to inform the design and development of new medical technologies.

Led by Rensselaer Professor Eric Ledet, the group of six students will be hosted by Stellenbosch University, which is just outside of Cape Town in South Africa. From Stellenbosch, the students will travel to the medical clinics in nearby towns and villages. Working with students and faculty from Stellenbosch, as well as the doctors and medical staff, the group will attempt to identify the specific needs of these clinics.

Upon returning to Rensselaer, the students will spend their spring semester developing and designing new medical technologies to help solve some of the particular needs of the visited clinics. This project will be part of the capstone design course for biomedical engineering seniors. The group will depart Jan. 6 and return to Rensselaer on Jan. 20.

“This is an exceptional opportunity for our biomedical engineering students to sharpen their skills by working with clients, recognizing opportunities, and innovating solutions to very important, very tangible challenges,” said Ledet, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rensselaer. “There’s no better way to learn engineering than seeing a problem with your own eyes, and then using your own smarts and your own hands to help fix it.”

One of the students traveling with Ledet to South Africa, Josh Peterson, said he’s excited about the trip. He said students often hear about the use of mosquito nets to help combat malaria, but he’s very interested to learn more about the practical day-to-day needs of running a medical clinic in South Africa. Medical devices are usually designed for hospitals and facilities with a robust infrastructure, and as a result these devices often cannot be used at remote and under-resourced clinics.

“When most medical devices are designed, they assume end-users have access to plenty of money, water, and power. But this is not the reality everywhere. From the very inception of our project, we’ll be working directly to address the needs of the clinics, and directly within their budget and situational constraints,” said Peterson, a senior biomedical engineering major from Springfield, Mass., who plans to pursue a master’s degree after graduating in May 2012. “In this way, I hope we can really make a difference.”

Another biomedical engineering senior, Mark Guirguis, also will participate in the trip and project. After seeing the remote clinics outside Stellenbosch, he hopes to help develop affordable, practical solutions to medical problems that could be of use in South Africa as well as other under-resourced areas around the world.

“It’s definitely exciting to have this opportunity—it should be an awesome experience,” he said.

Guirguis was born in Egypt and lived there for 10 years before his family moved to the United States. After graduating in May, he will stay at Rensselaer to pursue a master’s degree in biology as part of the university’s co-terminal degree program.

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