Three students at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine have created a medical design club that merges medicine and innovation.

Second-year students Luma Abunimer, Katie Hardin, and Tommy To said the focus of the organization is to support the engineering and design ideas of medical students and physicians so that they can innovate and improve medical technology, systems, and procedures.

“We felt that if we could provide medical students with the platform and skills to creatively address the many needs in the field of medicine, especially now during the pandemic, we would all be even more dynamic physician thought leaders,” Abunimer said.

Abunimer and Hardin have backgrounds in biomedical engineering. To’s undergraduate degree was in biology.

“We thought this was an amazing opportunity to work alongside classmates and have ideas together and learn how to solve problems by designing real-world solutions,” To said.

The group’s first project was a website that serves as a virtual repository for sharing computer-aided design (CAD) files that can be used for 3D printing of materials for use with personal protective equipment (PPE). Creation of the website was driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the PPE shortage it caused. Some of the early designs include face shields and accessories to reduce the strain on ears from face shield straps. Each design can be printed. Information and instructions are linked to the original source designer.

The site accepts designs from medical students, physicians, engineers, researchers, and anyone with a bright idea.

The club’s faculty advisor is Stephen LaConte, associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. LaConte’s research deals in advanced neuroimaging acquisition.

“The Medical Design Club has a lot of energy and expertise,” LaConte said. “It will be a wonderful experience for medical students to be thinking about medical design and technology issues from the very beginning of their basic science and clinical training. Such a club is also a great bridge to Virginia Tech’s established strengths in engineering, science, and mathematics”

The club’s goal is to foster innovation and share expertise for making ideas come to fruition.

“We’re hoping to make this an incubator for new ideas,” Hardin said. “We will help walk people through the process of designing a technology and everything that goes along with that.”

The group will utilize the principles of human-centered design for those who have an idea but not the engineering background to make it happen.

“It’s basically learning the skills to approach a problem and the thought process of how you go about addressing it, trying to brainstorm a solution for that need, refining the idea, and so on, like a cycle,” Abunimer said.

The group has also started a COVID-19 virtual series in which faculty from the medical school and Virginia Tech, as well as Carilion physicians and staff, discuss topics relating to health care during the pandemic. The most recent event focused on the intersection of health and technology and included guests Paul Skolnik, chair of medicine at Carilion Clinic; Edmundo Rubio, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine; and Troy Keyser, director of Carilion Innovation.

To submit or download design ideas, visit the group’s website. Keep up with the group’s latest activities on their Facebook page. They can also be found on Instagram.

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