Mechanical engineering undergraduate researcher, Andrew Beiter.
The ME SPUR Program, modeled after CU Summer Program for Undergraduate Research, enabled undergraduate students to work with mechanical engineering faculty during summer 2020 on research that could be conducted remotely. As a participant, Andrew Beiter worked with Assistant Professor Debanjan Mukherjee to develop an in-house library of models for arterial hemodynamics in human patients, using CT and MRI scans and microscopy image data. His summer research project was titled, Image-Based Modeling for Cardiovascular Systems.
Beiter is a third-year student at CU Boulder studying mechanical engineering who is also pursuing minors in philosophy and astrophysical and planetary sciences. His insights below provide a window into his research experience with ME SPUR.
Describe your summer research.
Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVADs) are a primary treatment modality for end stage heart failure patients. LVADs are mechanical pumps that are surgically attached to the heart and the aorta. The end goal of the project I’ve been working on this summer is to use embolus transport simulations on patient-specific models of various surgical attachment configurations of LVADs to the human aorta to see how the attachment influences blood flow and embolus (or blood clot) distribution. The purpose of this is to compare how differences in surgical attachment affect the likelihood of embolic particles going from the aortic arch up the carotid arteries towards the brain. This information can then be used by surgeons in determining how to attach the LVAD to best mitigate the risk of stroke.
The end result of my work this summer was the development of a computer simulation pipeline which can be used to run embolus transport simulations on patient-specific models that can accurately report the distribution of embolic particles to each possible arterial branch of the aortic arch. This work is part of a larger continuing research project in Professor Mukherjee’s group, where I plan to use this pipeline to determine ideal or optimal surgical attachment options to minimize stroke risk in patients who need LVADs, providing valuable information to surgeons. Eventually, a similar process can be used for any situation involving particle transport in blood vessels and stroke mechanics for other physiological interventions as well.
What was it like conducting research remotely?
Working on this project remotely didn’t prove to be too much of a challenge, as all of the work I did was computational by nature. The models and flow profiles I used were developed by another graduate student in the group that I worked with regularly, and I had quite a few questions for Professor Mukherjee while becoming familiar with the VCPrePost package. Also, there were a lot of opportunities associated with just being a member of the group, more than my project specifically, such as participating in a lab journal club and having a valuable resource to experience new things in group learning sessions.
What about this project was rewarding?
The most rewarding aspect of this project for me was knowing that the work I was doing could potentially be used to help save people’s lives by lowering their risk of stroke. The project is part of a clinical collaboration, and it’s good to know that the work I’m doing provides valuable information that can be used by clinicians. Also, I’m really proud of how much I’ve learned this summer, as I had no prior experience with anything similar to the framework I used, and running the simulations is a very advanced task.
Did you have any research experience prior to ME SPUR?
I had no research experience prior to joining Professor Mukherjee’s group and found it to be a very valuable experience. Problem solving and communication skills turned out to be the biggest assets I had in completing my project, as I was working with new and unfamiliar software and also had very little background in the biomedical field in general. Being able to tap into the knowledge and experience of my professor and other group members was hugely beneficial to making what at times felt like a daunting task much more doable.
What advice would you share with other students considering research?
I’d say that anybody considering getting involved in research should definitely go for it. The nature of research involves working on often entirely new problems and using novel software/tools/equipment that might not even be fully out of the development stage, which makes it a very unique experience that you can’t get by taking classes. It can also make it seem intimidating at times, and you might feel as though you run into a lot of difficulties, but your research group and advisors are there to help you succeed and ensure that it’s a valuable learning experience. I’ve learned a huge amount of new things and developed many new skills in a fairly short timeframe. Worst case scenario, you decide you don’t like research, but even then, that’s a worthwhile thing to find out, and you’ll still get a lot from the experience.