College of Engineering University of Wisconsin-Madison
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BME MONITOR: The Biomedical Engineering Department Newsletter


2008 Newsletter
Featured articles

Murphy receives prestigious NSF CAREER award

Translational research: Positive impacts

BME undergrads design meaningful medical solutions

Focus on new faculty:
Wan-Ju Li

Alumni profile:
Anthony Escarcega

Alum receives college achievement award

Regular Features

Message from the chair

Faculty news

Student news

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BME Design Awards logo

BME undergrads meaningful medical solutions
(View a gallery of photos from the Tong competition at

Decorative initial cap When junior Claire Flanagan graduates in May 2009 with bachelor’s degrees in biomedical engineering and biochemistry, she might display her diploma next to an equally prestigious document: a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “We would love to be able to license our technology to a company that could manufacture our device,” says Flanagan.

Close-up of the "Blinking orbital prosthesis"

The "Blinking orbital prosthesis"
(View larger image)

The Sophomore winning team

The Sophomore team who designed the "Blinking orbital prosthesis" with contest sponsor Peter Tong and BME chair Rob Radwin. (View larger image)

The Junior winning team

The Junior team who designed the "Device to assist in removal of pills from bubble-wrapped packaging." (View larger image)

The Senior winning team

The Senior team who designed the system "Delivery of inhaled drugs through continuous positive airway pressure." (View larger image)

Flanagan is among nearly 150 BME under-graduate students who, every semester of their education, work in teams to design meaningful solutions to problems posed by clients in medicine, academia and industry. This unique design-centered curriculum challenges students to experience and learn biomedical engineering by solving real-world clinical problems. In less than a decade, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, or WARF—the university patenting and licensing arm—has received 41 disclosures based on BME student inventions.

Through WARF, Flanagan and fellow BME undergraduate Ashley Huth filed a provisional patent in spring 2008 for their design, a specialized syringe that can separately store liquid and solid components, and mix and administer a solution. “One of the main challenges of today’s state-of-the-art medication is in the delivery of complex and multicomponent therapeutics,” says Professor W. John Kao, the students’ mentor for the project. “Ashley and Claire’s innovation will no doubt assist the clinicians in the use of such technologies in helping patients.”

Thank You, Judges!

Judges for the 2008 Tong Biomedical Engineering Design Competition:

Rich Hogle—Director of Product Development, Wicab

Ivar MeyvantssonGroup Leader, BellBrook Labs

Paul ReckwerdtPresident and Founder, TomoTherapy

Jeanine BurmaniaLicensing Associate, WARF

Dennis BahrPresident, Bahr Associates

Barbara IsraelCEO, EchoMetrix

Leon Janssen—Retired Executive, GE Healthcare

Liz Thottakara—Project Engineer, St. Jude Medical

The opportunity to participate in such clinically relevant research and design projects makes the UW-Madison biomedical engineering undergraduate program unique. “There’s nothing like this anywhere,” says Professor and BME chair Robert Radwin. “Almost every engineering program hasa senior design experience—but all our BME students work on projects throughout their curriculum. You can only do this in Wisconsin—and students come here because of this curriculum.”

While biomedical engineering often is a logical stepping stone to medical school or a graduate degree, the experiential learning component at Wisconsin also prepares biomedical engineers who can contribute immediately in industry positions, says Radwin. “Design challenges motivate the students to learn new things, to seek out knowledge, to take new courses, and to really tackle problems in which they have to face what they know and what they need to know,” he says. “They learn how to apply what they learn in the classroom. They learn problem-solving skills. And they learn how to interpret the client’s need to come up with a creative solution. When students come out of our program, they’re positioned to work as engineers right out of the gate.”

Not only does the design-centered BME curriculum cultivate a culture of collaborative innovation among the students, but it also stresses the importance of protecting their intellectual property. As a master’s student, Chris Westphal now is refining a design he created as a BME undergraduate. “I think the opportunity of being able to get a patent before you get your undergraduate degree lingers in the minds of many students while they are designing and building their devices,” he says.

Such was the case for a group of seven BME undergraduates who developed a “tongue toner” for client JoAnne Robbins, a professor of medicine who specializes in swallowing and geriatrics at Madison’s William S. Middleton VA Hospital and sees patients for diagnosis and treatment of swallowing disorders at UW Hospital and Clinics.

As people age, the strength of their mouth muscles deteriorates. As a result, approximately 15 million adults have difficulty swallowing. “Building strength improves swallowing so that people don’t have to do something different every time they take a sip or bite of something,” says Robbins.

Working with Robbins, the BME students developed a relatively inexpensive, custom-fitted system that may serve clinicians as a diagnostic screening tool, enables patients to exercise their tongue muscles and, at the same time, allows clinicians to monitor the patients’ progress.

Not only did the tongue toner yield two U.S. patents (initially, No. 6,702,765, and via Robbins’ lab, the alternative patent No. 7,238,145), but the BME students’ device also was the only undergraduate entry among 16 finalists, chosen from more than 900 entries worldwide, in the 2002 Collegiate Inventors Competition.

In spring 2008, 34 teams of BME undergraduates showcased their designs during the Tong Biomedical Engineering Design Competition, a public event held May 2. Among the students’ creations were a device that can monitor and control stem cell differentiation; a gentler, more reliable laparoscopic banding instrument for female tubal sterilization procedures; a “scaffolding” that prevents patient vein collapse during hemodialysis; and a device that monitors skin-color changes during hot flashes as an objective means to assess therapeutic drugs for menopausal women.

Mollie Lange is among a group of four students who designed a GPS-linked asthma inhaler, which communicates to population health researchers the time, date and location a patient uses it. The inhaler is an important research tool for population health scientists who track allergy and asthma symptoms, outbreak control and general health observations of people in certain areas of the world. “The skills I have acquired through the design curriculum will serve me well as I begin work as a medical researcher,” says Lange, who in fall 2008 will begin work on a PhD in immunology or pharmacology at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Lange transferred to Wisconsin to study biomedical engineering after two years on scholarship at the University of Oklahoma. “When looking for BME programs, I carefully considered the reputation of the school, its location, and the different career paths of program graduates. This was a place that I knew I would have many options after receiving my degree,” she says. “I would encourage anybody who wants a realistic portrayal of what it is like to be a biomedical engineer to apply to this program. The experience of the design course sets it apart from similar schools and stresses the values of teamwork and lifelong learning.”

Flanagan says her BME education has instilled in her a sense of excitement for the field and for the opportunities to use her knowledge in novel and substantial ways. “I think so many incoming college students have a desire to help others and to make an impact,” she says. “The BME curriculum gives us an outlet to do so in the present—while developing skills that will sustain our youthful passion for years to come.”



• Sophomores Ryan Kimmel, Allison McArton, Joel Gaston and Hallie Kreitlow designed the “Blinking orbital prosthesis” for client Greg Gion. An orbital prosthesis is a lifelike artificial eye that does not blink. The student team designed a prosthesis that includes a tiny battery-operated motor that enables rods on the back of the eyelid to open and close the eye.

• Juniors Ben Engel, Ryan Carroll, Justin Schmidt and Eric Printz designed the “Device to assist in removal of pills from bubble-wrapped packaging” for client Molly Carnes, a professor of medicine and industrial engineering. Patients who have weak or deformed hands have trouble opening pills that come in “blister” packages, or those in which the user must punch through or peel back a protective covering to access the pill. The students developed a device that includes a concealed blade; when the user pulls the handle on the device, the blade slices the blister and releases the pill from its packaging.

•Seniors Emily Maslonkowski, Sara Karle and Michele Lorenz designed the system “Delivery of inhaled drugs through continuous positive airway pressure” for client Mihai Teodorescu, a clinical assistant professor of medicine. For patients with sleep apnea and asthma, the students’ device can monitor breathing rate and, using a commercial continuous positive airway pressure machine, deliver inhaled steroids at predetermined intervals.


The 2008 Tong BME Design R&D Awards Committee selected two ongoing student projects for research and development support. The objective of the award is to advance the winning projects through the university’s commercialization infrastructure, such as the W.H. Coulter Translational Research Partnership in Biomedical Engineering.

The committee chose proposals submitted by Tim Pearce for “A soluble factor gradient generator,” and by Matt Kudek for “A leg positioner/pannus retractor.”

Funding supports further development of the designs and intellectual property in collaboration with a BME faculty member.


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Copyright 2008 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Date last modified: Monday,8-September-2008 15:43:00 CDT
Date created: 8-September-2008



Graphic of the Biomedical Engineering newsletter