The Ian ‘Budgie’ Martin Award
This summer I was chosen to go on an amazing two-week trip to Texas Medical Centre as the third recipient of the Ian ‘Budgie’ Martin Award. During the trip I stayed with Dr Stuart Corr, Head of Surgical Innovation at Baylor College of Medicine and former McLaren High School pupil, and his family.
I spent the first day shadowing a group of biomedical engineering students at Baylor College and went to a lecture by the pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson about modern healthcare and surgeries. Every morning Stuart dropped me off at Baylor with nine first year medical science students on a six-week summer programme from Swansea University who I shadowed and worked with throughout the two weeks. I had the chance to work with pancreatic cancer cells in the labs as we studied them grow in 2-D on the surface of a cell flask and in 3-D on a pig’s aorta. I learned cell culturing techniques as well as aseptic techniques as we had to regularly change the media to keep the cells alive to continue studying them and often had to split the cells into more cell flasks as they divided rapidly and needed more space. We changed the media and ‘washed’ the cells with phosphate buffer saline (PBS) to get rid of any waste materials and dead cells. We used trypsin to detach the cells from the surface to make it easier to split them into different flasks but had to be careful as too much exposure to the trypsin would be toxic for the cells. We observed the cells under microscopes, so I learned to look for signs of healthy growth and signs of contamination.
The Swansea students had arrived 3 weeks prior to me and had been given the challenge by Stuart to design an artificial lung that could be implanted in the body and have the same mechanisms as an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine so that it could act as an internal ECMO and bridge to lung transplantation. During the first week we continued the research process as we looked into possible oxygen supplies that would allow the patient to be mobile rather than confined to a hospital bed. Once the oxygen supply had been decided and the oxygen delivery system had been chosen the work on the design of the device began along with working out the practicality of the design and discussing how invasive the surgery would need to be. It was eventually decided that an oxygen source wouldn’t be used to make the device more compact and to avoid some of the complications associated with external oxygen sources. Instead it was decided that the device would be connected directly to the trachea so that natural human respiration could take place and small inflatable balloons which inflated to capture air on inhalation and deflated to release air on exhalation would be used in place of the lung, then an oxygenator was used to get the oxygen into the blood. Some of the details were inspired by the avian respiratory system which we had researched earlier and found to be very efficient. Every few days we had meetings with Stuart, his colleagues and other students in his department to discuss the progress of each of their projects. This was very interesting as I was able to learn about the science and design process behind several different projects as well as the Swansea project.
As well as working at Baylor, we also took an amazing day trip to NASA’s Johnson Space Centre where we took a tour of the mission control where a NASA team had full mission control of Apollo 11 from launch and lift-off at the Kennedy Space Centre to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean and could see the old rockets which were used in previous US space missions. We also went to the museum district of Houston where we visited the Medical Museum, Health Museum and the Natural Science Museum which had a famous palaeontology display. Stuart also made sure I was able to experience the state of Texas as I also got to try lots of different popular Texas food, including Texas BBQ, Tex-Mex, and Popeye’s fried chicken. We did some sightseeing around Houston and the Medical Centre campus where Stuart pointed out places where Nobel prize-winning scientific discoveries were made.
Eve Abernethy S6