Design of a Novel Head Fixation Device for Focused Ultrasound Applications; The Use of Empathic Engineering in Medicine and Health

Kormath Anand, Rithika, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Sheehan, Jason, MD-NERS Radiosurgery, University of Virginia
Schlesinger, David, MD-RONC Radiation Oncology, University of Virginia
Powlovich, Lauren, Focused Ultrasound Foundation
Snell, John, Focused Ultrasound Foundation
Ferguson, Sean, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Biomedical engineering and medical innovation have significantly improved the health of the world in many ways. However, dehumanization and ignorance of the needs and experiences of the stakeholders involved in and impacted by these technologies can cause inadequate solutions to existing problems. Current biotechnologies seek to improve the health and medical experiences of people, such as offering new treatments, supporting our bodies, and improving medical procedures, like surgeries. Modern technologies, such as radiosurgery, has significantly reduced the time of and risks associated with traditional surgeries, and is becoming much more effective as treatment for various disorders. There is a difference between an effective approach for a favorable outcome, and an empathic approach for the most dignified outcome that also preserves the quality of life of people; therefore, a new standard of engineering is required to ensure that the needs and experiences of people are met while developing new technologies. The following technical and STS theses discuss the use of empathy as a tool in engineering practice to create technologies that impact the world taking into account the experiences of its people.

The technical thesis proposes a novel head fixation device for use during the treatment of neurological disorders by focused ultrasound technology. Focused ultrasound (FUS) is a noninvasive, early-stage technology utilized in the treatment of a multitude of medical disorders. The patient's head is securely fastened to the focused ultrasound machine during treatment, however, current headframes in use are adapted from other radiotherapy technologies and have limitations. The goal of this project was to design and prototype a novel head fixation device that would be compatible with the machine and not interfere during treatment, expand the access to the brain, and minimize patient discomfort. Computer-aided design was used to create and test the proposed model, and the final design was 3D printed and assembled. The final prototype was thinner and less bulky, and fixated to the patient's head with a more comfortable mechanism. This novel design will contribute to improving current head stabilization technology that overcomes current limitations while also increasing the potential for treatments of various brain disorders.

The STS thesis explores the use of empathy as a tool in engineering, otherwise known as “empathic engineering,” as a method of social construction of technology in engineers and students of engineering through case studies. Empathic engineering seeks to develop technology informed by the requirements and experiences of the community. The identity of engineers is shifting from narrow-minded technical problem-solvers, to empathic and collaborative problem-solvers that seek to create groundbreaking technology by connecting with the world. Students reported a positive experience regarding the shift in their fundamental engineering design process using empathy. Many case studies support the teaching and practice of empathy as a tool in engineering work and education, while also providing evidence of improved outcomes in the novel solutions that were devised throughout the process, working with stakeholders, further supporting that empathic engineering can be facilitated in future generations of engineers with favorable outcomes.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Focused Ultrasound, Empathy, Empathic Engineering, Blood-Brain-Barrier Opening, Headframe, Head Fixation Device, Neurosurgery

School of Engineering and Applied Science,
Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering.
Technical Advisor: Dr. Jason Sheehan, Dr. David Schlesinger, Dr. Lauren Powlovich, Dr. John Snell.
STS Advisor: Sean Ferguson.
Technical Team Members: Isha Bhatia.

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