• BEST IN STATE—Senior Courtney Schoen Lewis was named Best PR Student in Utah. Story

Under the sea . . . USU students dredge up biotech solution for implants

February 24th, 2013 Posted in Arts and Life

By Mary Taggart, Sam Bennion, Landon Kohler, Hannah Heninger and Amanda Ahlman
The Blue Streak

LOGAN—Inspired by aquatic creatures like sharks, whales and shellfish, and tested on the hulls of ships, microtexture has become an important addition to the medical field.

original-shark-picSoon, with the help of Utah State University research, it could soon be implanted into thousands of medical patients.

Bio-engineering seniors Sydney Bone, Tyson Holverson and Eric Schmidt have undertaken an 11-month microtexture project which could revolutionize medical implants like hip replacements, pacemakers and catheters.

As a concept, Schmidt said, microtexture is pretty simple. “We’re adding a tiny texture onto things that stops bacteria from growing on them,” he said.

Bone, Holverson and Schmidt are trying to improve on designs developed in 2007 by biotechnology company Sharklet Technologies, Inc.

“They noticed that when a whale comes into port, it’s covered with algae on its skin. They looked at shark skin and noticed that algae doesn’t grow on it,” Schmidt said. By replicating the rough texture of shark skin, Sharklet produced a bacteria-repellent plastic texture, now gaining popularity in the medical industry.

While Sharklet focuses mainly on plastic products, however, Bone, Holverson and Schmidt look to use microtexture in a new way.

“We’re not copying the sharkskin, per se, there’s already a company that has a patent on that,” Bone said. “We’re looking at different kinds of textures that can be put on metal.”

The students intend to establish a niche in a growing microtexture market by designing a metal-compatible texture based on the skins of certain shellfish, Bone said.

“We’re trying to stop infections, so we’re putting small little ridges, these patterns, onto a hip implant,” Schmidt said. “But hip implants aren’t the only medical implant that could potentially benefit from microtexture. We’ve looked into things like pacemakers and catheters.”

Discovering how sharks and shellfish prevent bacterial infection was the easy part, Bone said.

“The hard part is to get the pattern onto a surface,” Bone said. “I was surprised that this was the difficult part, that even though we’re bio-engineering students doing the research, the hard part is mechanical.”

By partnering with local medical company Zigg Design the seniors have found a working balance between the bio-engineering and mechanical engineering needs of the project.

“The company we’re working with is going to give us scraps of the material they use for machine implants,” Holverson said. “Nothing too fancy, we just need some results to get us started.”

The project is expected to finish in December, although the team would like to be done earlier.

“There are other people and other literature doing similar things; it’s just a matter of who gets there first and whose idea is the most innovative,” Bone said. “I hope we do. That would be awesome for us and for USU.”

Research by students at Utah State has the potential to provide the university with grants, and the opportunity for the students’ work to be published.

“We’ve been talking to the patent office at USU and we’ve been finding intellectual property deals between us, the university and the company,” Schmidt said. “We were told that if this actually goes to market, we get a slice of the pie.”

Although they have plenty of incentive, the students know that there is a lot to do in order to achieve their goals.

“The hardest part is trying to know everything,” Holverson said. “There are a lot of little details and little processes we have to understand in order to understand how everything works together.”

But in spite of complicated details, Holverson said he is pleased with the way the group works together as a team.

“We work well together, so that’s part of the reason we’ve stuck together,” Holverson said. “We know how each other work. We know each others’ strengths and weaknesses and we kind of help strengthen the others where they’re not so strong. We’ve got ourselves into a good groove.”

Once the project concludes, Bone, Holverson and Schmidt will go their separate ways, but they hope their research will benefit others.

“The idea started with ship hulls, they get a lot of barnacles that grow on them, but by applying this texture, it doesn’t grow,” Bone said. “The next step is finding more places to add this to and to improve the quality of peoples’ lives.”



Tags: ,

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.