Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Spotlights

EASY RIDER: Alex Streeter ’03 Th’05 has engineered medical devices for the Mayo Clinic.
EASY RIDER: Alex Streeter ’03 Th’05 has engineered medical devices for the Mayo Clinic. Photograph courtesy of Alex Streeter.

As a Mayo Clinic engineer, Alex Streeter ’03 Th’05 tackled doctors’ and patients’ requests as he did the ENGS 190/290/390 sequence: Define the problem, develop several ideas to address it, then prototype and test one or more solutions until the problem is solved. Streeter was one of more than 50 engineers at Mayo who work on inventions to make doctors’ jobs easier and patients’ lives better. Some of his designs have included life-sized models of pediatric scoliotic spines for presurgical planning; a physical therapy chair/bench for a set of conjoined twin infants; a “knee-walker” for a 7-foot-8-inch, 600-pound patient with a bad foot; a wheelchair attachment for a mother to use to hold her infant; high-speed videography of breaking bones; and a horizontal mill for grinding out the inside of a femoral head to harvest bone graft material. “Some of our work has a high impact on patient care at the clinic, sometimes for just a single patient. Some of our work seeks to enable the kind of medical and technological research and development that will bring about the next revolution in medicine, and will have a high impact beyond the clinic,” he says. Streeter will be bringing that revolutionary approach to DEKA Research as he returns to New Hampshire for his wife’s medical residency.

>> Husband and wife team Mark ’80 and Paula Ness Speers ’80 first combined their R&D and consulting talents 18 years ago to found Health Advances, LLC. They’ve built their 60-person firm with offices in San Francisco and Boston into the go-to consultants for advice on commercializing new medical technologies, guiding decisions on which applications, diseases, and conditions to target, optimizing pricing, sizing sales forces, and negotiating channels of distribution. With his engineering training, Mark focuses on the medical-technical and diagnostics clients, and is currently developing a medical device to reduce the incidence of ventilator-associated pneumonia. “I find that my familiarity with materials science and manufacturing processes gains me instant credibility with new clients and often leads to brainstorming sessions that create new product ideas,” he says. Paula, who served in the Peace Corps as a tuberculosis worker in South Korea after graduating from Dartmouth with a degree in international relations, continues to work in the developing world. She’s currently working on a new diagnostic platform to enable infectious disease diagnostics. “Once in a while we work together,” says Mark. “We fondly recall one of our first successes: the development of the Acticoat antimicrobial wound dressing. The product has become the best-selling burn dressing in the world and has saved hundreds of patients’ lives.”

>> Rick Greenwald Th’88 is turning his wide range of engineering and manufacturing expertise to the problems of personal injury among elite athletes, soldiers, and the elderly. As founder and president of Simbex in Lebanon, N.H., he is currently working on ActiveStep technology to train people to recover from a fall. With the system — highlighted on “Good Morning America” in a May segment titled “A Smart Way to Fall? New Technology Prevents Tragedy” — a therapist uses a body harness, treadmill, and sensors to analyze patients’ movements and retrain their responses to tripping or slipping. The therapy can be life-saving, as one in three adults over 65 fall every year. Such falls annually cause 300,000 hip fractures, one-fifth of which lead to death. “Simbex stands for Simply Better Exercise and is the realization of a dream to solve important large-scale health problems related to personal injury with appropriate cost-effective technology,” says Greenwald. It’s an approach Time magazine recognized in its “Best Inventions of 2007” issue, highlighting the group’s Head Impact Telemetry system (a head-impact monitoring system designed to prevent mild traumatic brain injury) and PowerFoot One (a robotic foot and ankle prosthetic).

HUMAN ENGINEERING: Plastic surgeon Jason Altman ’97 (center)  performs corrective  surgery on kids all over the world.  Photograph courtesy of Jason Altman.
HUMAN ENGINEERING: Plastic surgeon Jason Altman ’97 (center) performs corrective surgery on kids all over the world. Photograph courtesy of Jason Altman.

>> Plastic surgeon Jason Altman ’97 has spent the last year traveling the world — Ecuador, Peru, China, India, Vietnam, and Zambia — performing plastic and reconstructive surgery on children in need as a Jerome P. Webster Fellow for the global health organization Interplast. “Usually I am traveling with a team of doctors and nurses; however, on occasion I will also go by myself to work with and teach a local surgeon in some more remote areas,” says Altman. His surgeries include cleft lip and palate repair, congenital hand deformities, congenital facial deformities, and burn and trauma reconstruction. “Plastic surgery is the practice of human engineering!” he says.

>> After 10 years as an audiologist — most recently as the director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia cochlear implant programKevin Franck ’92 is providing clinical strategy to Cochlear Ltd. “I’ve been drawn to this field because I grew up with deafness in my family (my sister),” says Franck, who trained as a biomedical engineer at Dartmouth. “The cochlear implant is truly amazing. Deaf babies can grow up listening and talking, and adults who lose their hearing can once again communicate with their spouses and colleagues with phones and all that stuff we take for granted.” He is now involved in the global marketing of Cochlear’s implantable hearing devices, which are used to replace damaged parts of the cochlea. (Hearing aids, on the other hand, attempt to get the damaged parts to work better, and are usually appropriate for those with mild or moderate hearing loss.) Franck says the cost — about $30,000 in the United States, plus the cost of surgery and rehabilitation — is covered by most insurance companies, due to the high cost efficacy.

Kevin Franck ’92 provides clinical strategy for Cochlear Ltd.’s Nucleus® Freedom™ cochlear implant system, which consists of an external sound processor (A) and coil (B) and an internal implant (C). Image Courtesy of Cochlear Ltd.
Kevin Franck ’92 provides clinical strategy for Cochlear Ltd.’s Nucleus® Freedom™ cochlear implant system, which consists of an external sound processor (A) and coil (B) and an internal implant (C). Image Courtesy of Cochlear Ltd.

>> Dr. Andrew Mannes Th’83 believes that killing the messenger — pain-responsive neurons in the sensory ganglia — can be a practical way to manage intractable pain. Mannes, who works in the department of anesthesia and surgical services for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., is testing a new pain-relieving drug called resiniferatoxin, a single-shot dose of analgesic that lasts forever. The experimental drug targets sensory neurons that convey pain to the spinal cord. Interrupting this one specific class of pain-sensing neurons will eliminate the connection and some types of pain, including that seen with advanced cancer. In animal studies — including treating dogs for refractory end-of-life pain and goats for severe arthritis — the drug has shown remarkable improvement or elimination of pain symptoms, he says. The FDA has approved clinical trials, and Mannes and colleagues are now looking for cancer patients who are experiencing severe pain that is unresponsive to conventional therapy. Under this treatment, the patient is placed under general anesthesia for an hour or so while Mannes injects the resiniferatoxin into the cerebrospinal fluid space around the spinal cord, where it eliminates the pain neurons. If the treatment is successful, he says, patients should be able to discontinue their medications, including high doses of morphine or other opioids to control pain. Unlike other pain medications, his treatment appears to have no side effects (such as sedation or hallucinations) and no addictive potential.

An ailing dog feels no pain while on resiniferatoxin. Video courtesy of Dr. Andrew Mannes Th’83.

>> Terry McGuire Th’82, co-founder of Boston-based Polaris Venture Partners and chairman of Thayer’s Board of Overseers, is the new chair of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA). “Although the NVCA has long been an advocate for public policies that encourage innovation and economic growth, our work today is as important as ever,” he said. “It is critical that the government and the venture capital industry continue working together to support risk-taking and long-term investment so that we as investors can continue to create new jobs and bring breakthrough technologies to market.” Prior to forming Polaris Venture Partners, he spent seven years at Burr, Egan, Deleage & Co. investing in early-stage medical and information technology companies. McGuire has co-founded three companies: Inspire Pharmaceuticals, Advanced Inhalation Research Inc. (AIR), and MicroCHIPS.

>> The sky’s the limit for Jim Zierick ’78 TT’80, who brings 25 years in building technology companies to “cloud storage” platform provider Nirvanix. In his new role as president and CEO of the San Diego-based firm, he’s using his business acumen to grow the company’s global cluster of storage nodes. He presented the company’s strategies during the spring Red Herring Conference, where he accepted a Red Herring 100 Award, given to the top 100 U.S. tech companies based upon their technological innovation, management strength, and market size.

>> Dartmouth javelin-throw record holder Sean Furey ’04 qualified for the International Association of Athletics Federations World Track & Field Championships held in Berlin in August after placing third at the USA Track & Field Championships in Oregon in June. “This is something that I’ve been dreaming of and working towards for so many years,” says the former engineering major.

>> Energy-capture expert Brian S. Hendrickson ’06 Th’07 has been named to the advisory board of alternative energy technology developer Octillion Corp. An engineer with Veryst Engineering, LLC, in Needham, Mass., Hendrickson is credited with various innovations in the capture of wasted energy for generating electricity. The September 2008 issue of Mechanical Engineering Magazine, in an article titled “Harvest of Motion,” highlighted his development of a small-scale device that uses human motion to generate five-times greater power output (per volume) than conventional energy harvesting systems.

For more photos, visit our Alumni Projects and Engineering in Medicine sets on Flickr.

Categories: Alumni News, Spotlights

Tags: alumni, award, curriculum, design, energy, engineering in medicine, entrepreneurship

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