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Engineering | Undergraduate Research

Jason Yang, Travel Grant

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Jason Yang, Travel Grant

Biomedical engineering student and current FURI researcher Jason Yang has been conducting research under the mentorship of Dr. Vincent Pizziconi and Mayo Clinic surgeon Dr. David Lott. Last month, he attended the 3rd Annual Southwest Laryngology Conference: Focus on Voice Disorders 2016 at the Mayo Clinic here in Scottsdale, Arizona. While in attendance, he presented his research presentation, “Personalized 3D Medpor® Conformal Vocal Fold Implants.” Jason gave us some details about his experience.

In layman terms, what was the conference about?

The conference was a state-of-the-art discussion and instruction on comprehensive evaluation and management of voice disorders and related rehabilitation techniques. There were also workshops and hands-on-lab that covered all the aspects of the laryngology office-based procedures. In addition, the conference also held a poster session that the conference chair, Dr. Lott invited Dr. Pizziconi’s undergraduate lab multidisciplinary research team of which I am a member to present the results our research on “Personalized 3D Medpor® Conformal Vocal Fold Implants”, which included the results of my FURI research project. Our undergraduate research team is part of a longstanding translational research collaboration between Dr. Pizziconi’s Bioengineering Laboratory in SBHSE at ASU and Dr. Lott’s Head and Neck Regeneration Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic Arizona.

What motivated you to present at this conference?

The opportunity to present the results of my FURI project as part of multidisciplinary team effort to ENT surgeons from across the US was a prime motivation for me to present at this conference. Since the summer of 2015, my undergraduate team members and I have worked extremely hard in Dr. Pizziconi’s Laboratory of BioInspired Complex Adaptive Systems and the Biomedical Engineering Design Center to demonstrate the feasibility that 2D Medpor® medical implant biomaterials can be conformed to the specific anatomical shape of a vocal fold of a human subject. The realization that we were given such a unique opportunity to apply skill sets that we are learning as undergraduates in an open ended way to the cutting edge of regenerative medicine and present our very own research results that may eventually contribute to society was a transforming, if not, transcending moment for me. It has really made me appreciate the opportunities, such as FURI, that ASU’s Fulton School if Engineering offers to its undergraduates. Of course, our achievement would not be possible without dedicated mentors, like Dr. David Lott and Dr. Vincent Pizziconi, who offered us this research project and encouraged us to present our research findings to their ASU Bioengineering-Mayo Clinic Head and Neck Regeneration Laboratory research group and then to the 3rd Annual Southwest Laryngology Conference.

Tell us about some of the presentations you attended!

One talk that stood out was Dr. Julie Barkmeier-Kraemer’s presentation on “Does Packaging Matter? The Role of Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve Packaging and its Potential Impact on its Function.” She talked about how the laryngeal nerve packing was directly related to vocal fold paralysis. Although the knowledge we gained from her presentation won’t be applied directly to our research project at this stage, knowing the importance of the function of the laryngeal nerve has greatly helped us increase our understanding of the vocal folds and its function.

We also attended Dr. David Lott’s presentation on “Special Considerations in Airway Reconstruction and Rehabilitation.” He talked about the current techniques that were used to reconstruct the larynx/vocal folds and how patients currently undergo the long road of voice rehabilitation. The knowledge that we’ve gained from his presentation is directly applicable to our vocal fold research project because it has extended our current knowledge of vocal fold repair. Thus, we are better positioned to come up with new engineering solutions to solve the challenging problems of vocal fold reconstruction for patients.

What would you say was the best part of the conference?

Best part of the conference was being able to present our research results to ENT surgeons and receive feedback from them. The feedback given by them has allowed our bioengineering team to take different approaches when engineering solutions to vocal fold restoration. Speaking with the surgeons has also allowed our group to fully understand what needed to be fulfilled in the surgical process to create the shape of the vocal folds. We realized that the interactions were an important key to bridging the gap between engineers and doctors.

Has your involvement with this conference influenced your research plans?

The involvement with this conference has influenced us as both engineers and undergraduate researchers. With now continued FURI support for my undergraduate BME research partner, Amanda Nguyen, and myself and the confidence that we gained at the Mayo Clinic 3rd Annual Southwest Laryngology Conference on Voice Disorders, we are eager to obtain new research results that we can present at the upcoming BMES 2016 Conference in October to biomedical engineers, doctors, and physicians around the world.

The conference has also taught us how important it is to bridge the work at the interface between doctors and engineers to solve problems in regenerative medicine. The fact that the research we conducted on conforming 2D porous polyethylene (Medpor®) could potentially be translated into the clinic for vocal fold restoration and other regenerative medicine applications has far exceeded our expectations as Fulton undergraduates engineering students. Now we look forward to learning even more skill sets from our Bioengineering professors that we can directly translate result to the clinic as undergraduates as we pursue careers related the regeneration of patient- specific, tissue and organs that is anticipated to significantly lower healthcare cost while dramatically improving the standard of care and the quality of life.

Is there anything you wish you knew prior to the conference?

Prior the conference, we wish we had gained a deeper understanding of the surgical techniques currently used by ENT surgeons to repair vocal folds. When the surgeons presented their work on how vocal folds were currently being repaired, we were not as familiar with the specific structure of the larynx as it is not one of the topics covered in our physiology for biomedical engineer’s class. Heading into the conference, it would’ve been great to understand and know the current vocal fold surgical techniques and why it was being used by ENT surgeons. It also underscored the critical importance of understanding both the anatomy and physiology of the system the biomedical engineer is working on and the value of continuous, life-long learning.

Any suggestions for other students regarding conferences? 

Be prepared to speak in front of professional audiences. If you don’t understand what they are asking, ask them to repeat the question again. If you don’t know the answer to a question then say you don’t know but you will find out the answer.

Going to a conference? Have research-related travel needs? Apply for the Undergraduate Research Travel Grant!

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