Developing a robust and low-cost heart pump simulator for infants with heart failure

MEng team at poster; Stephen Chupil, Ivan Jiran, Liam McLane

M.Eng. project team designs "Pediatric cardiovascular simulator."



Team Members:

Ivan JiranIvan Jiran– I chose an M.Eng. in BME at Cornell University for how it will aid me in developing an understanding of the medical-device world and all the regulations and logistical challenges associated with it, as well as developing project/product managerial skills thus unlocking my full potential as an aspiring entrepreneur and academic. The future of medicine and healthcare requires more companies such as Stryker and Medtronic, to name a few, and I plan to first work for companies like this and lead my own in the near future. I have always been most comfortable in a leadership position as I have excellent communication skills. The community found here at Cornell breathes innovation and start-up culture, so it was a no-brainer.

Stephen ChupilStephen Chupil– I chose Cornell's BME M.Eng. program because I wanted to further develop my academic knowledge and leadership capabilities. I wanted to learn about the medical device industry and the career opportunities available to biomedical engineers. The program is fast-paced and offers a balance between theory and practice that prepares you well for industry. The program is also very flexible, and allows you to choose the courses that align with the career path you are most interested in.

Liam McLaneLiam McLane – I chose the BME M.Eng. to gain more practical skills and experience in applying the knowledge from my undergraduate degree to a real-world project. I saw it as a valuable jumping-off point for entering the biomedical device industry. The program was a great opportunity to expand my core knowledge with graduate-level classwork, learn about design workflows and team organizations commonly used in industry, and work on a team project with creative freedom to solve the task at hand.

Tell us about your project and why it's important?

According to the American Heart Association, an estimated 40,000 infants in the United States are born with congenital heart defects each year. Among these, .25 percent, or 2.4 out of every 1000 live births require invasive treatment within the first year. A cardiac transplant is required for children with congenital and/or acquired heart defects who do not respond to optimal medical treatment. However, the number of available donor hearts is insufficient to meet the demand. The waiting list is growing. A mechanical heart-assist pump is the only life-saving alternative to transplantation for children with severe cardiac collapse. The only such device approved by the FDA is based on 1970s technology and has numerous deficiencies: it is too large to be implanted, prevents the child from going home, and bears an unacceptable stroke risk as it ages. In the process of developing LVADs (left ventricular assist devices) mock circulatory loops (MCLs) are necessary for testing these devices before in vivo trials can begin. MCLs mimic the human circulatory system and provide a benchtop platform to test the performance of LVADs. The MCL for this project will be tailored for pediatric LVADs. The MCL must be simple, allowing fast & reproducible adjustment of vascular resistance & compliances, and ventricular preload for the purpose of ensuring stability & robustness in LVADs. There is currently a lack of commercially available systems that physically replicate pressures and flows in the cardiovascular system; most work is carried out within individual labs, whose loops may have limited utility to other groups or applications. Designs of cardiovascular devices for pediatric patients, especially those in the age range of 1-4 years old, for which hemodynamic parameters rapidly change with age. The primary outcome is to generate pressure and flow values in the left atrium and ventricle that are more accurate to the pediatric population. Secondary to this is broad compatibility with many different VADs and the ability to simulate the range of cardiovascular conditions they are seeking to address.
Are you working with any partners and what's that like?

The project is being run through the BME program in conjunction with Professor James Antaki’s lab. This includes Professor Antaki himself, and his post-doctoral student. Professor Antaki is behind the PediaFlow, a pediatric heart pump which has revolutionized the space. It has been amazing to hear his insights and see his passion in this field. He has also connected us with other experts in the filed such a Dr. Stijn Vandenberghe who frequently meets with us to give his advice on our designs.

What have you learned or what has surprised you about this project or your Cornell experience?

Something that stands out is how involved the faculty staff are willing to be; they are excited to share their experiences and knowledge to help you towards your goal. But they do it in such a way that they don't parent you; they let you make mistakes, find the solution, etc., and they are there to provide insight and guide your thinking process, if asked. This was refreshing because, from our usual experience with a project such as this, where there are a million different ways to accomplish the goal, you can easily get lost trying to find the perfect solution. But here at Cornell, they teach you the value in the process, and you're so easily connected to any resource, whether it be physical or non-physical (experts in the field), that you are only limited by your own inhibitions. When designing a system or device such as ours, you will encounter a plethora of obstacles, and we have learned how to address them collectively and promptly. Deciding which problems to address and which to move forward with is a skill you learn by doing, and that's precisely what we are currently experiencing.

What’s the next step/ future direction for your project?

The mock loop, as mentioned, is being constructed to be robust. Also, as previously mentioned, this field (pediatric heart failure) lacks data which is why mock loops are so important as it allows device manufacturers to acquire actionable data, which will enable them to better design their device (current or future iterations). Future teams will continue modifying and improving the mock loop. Heavy software integration with the loop adds to its robust nature, but other related medical devices such as artificial valves, LVADS, and whole heart pumps require benchtop testing. So, the current loop functionality could be expanded (or code expanded) to make it more inclusive and eventually a complete circulatory simulator. From an economic standpoint, the mock loop could further be compacted to make it more transportable so that if it wanted to compete in the market of pediatric mock loops, it would be a cost leader as current competitors already have systems that are all-encompassing but are very costly.

Fun fact/story about your team and or project story?

Our team has quite an interesting mix; we all have different academic backgrounds--one biomedical engineer, one mechanical engineer, and one engineering physics--and we are all from different countries. Yet, it works. Our experience designing a physical device varies from none to some, and I, Ivan, who has designed quite a few things, probably made the funniest mistake: first, I 3D-printed the left ventricle full-scale the first time (terrible since nothing comes out right the first time), and then secondly, my two parts screwing into each other had opposite-handed threads (unheard of mistake). Only when you see how small an infant's heart is, do you realize how amazing and complex the cardiovascular system is. Our team really does embrace the concept of shared leadership, where some are weak in the more technical applications and others in the more interactive related skills; we really do work interchangeably and help each other out. The individual growth is also very present, and we all have acquired relevant product design experience (at all levels).

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