Emory Report
September 2, 2008
Volume 61, Number 2

Bioengineering Rx

The problem: Emergency medical procedures don’t always allow for optimal sterile fields. Likewise, emergency rooms can be cramped, especially when performing certain medical procedures, like inserting a central line. Yet, many patients who need one already have an overwhelming infection or have traumatic injuries. If they get a central line-associated infection, it’s potentially lethal.

A solution?
The students in Jeremy Ackerman’s biomedical engineering class don’t have to invent anything. Instead, they’re working through a clinical problem by reviewing literature, searching patents, and proposing a solution that might fit into a competitive marketplace. “Working with undergraduates is great. They haven’t gotten their views of medical care colored by real world experiences so they’re unafraid to propose a fresh way of doing something,” Ackerman says.



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2, 2008
A life examined: Re-engineering a career in medicine

By Robin Tricoles

While on his way to earning a master’s degree in engineer-ing, Jeremy Ackerman awoke one morning and realized he didn’t want a career designing missile-guidance systems. “I couldn’t see being proud of a career designing weapons or weapon control systems,”says Ackerman, now an assistant professor of emergency medi-cine at Emory.

Instead, Ackerman decided to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. “My parents discouraged me from going to medical school,” says Ackerman. “My father was concerned that I didn’t really want to be a doctor. So I volunteered in an emergency department. I went in every day and really started feeling that this is what I wanted to do.”
Ackerman now divides his time between the emergency rooms at Emory University Hospital and Grady Memorial. “Emergency medicine has a lot of things that are quite exciting,” he says. “You never know who the next patient is going to be, or what you’re going to be doing in half an hour.”

Yet, Ackerman is still deeply interested in biomedical engineering, specifically, developing technologies for health care. “One problem in biomedical engineering is that engineers and physicians speak different languages,” says Ackerman. “Physicians may have a problem they want to work on, but they don’t necessarily know how to phrase it so an engineer can solve it. And the engineer may have technology that may have a medical or biological application, but it’s not clear how to relate it to clinical practice.”

Currently, Ackerman is working with a group of biomedical engineering undergraduates at Georgia Institute of Technology in the joint Georgia Tech/Emory Department of Biomedical Engineering. The students’ senior design project is aimed at improving the procedure for inserting central lines in emergency room patients.

“Central lines are these really large IVs that we put into people’s necks under their collar bones or in their legs,” he explains. “There are many complications associated with them; the most significant one is infections. This has been an international priority in health care: to reduce the incidence of central line associated infections.”

With all the rapidly evolving technology available in today’s marketplace, Ackerman says he’s surprised that “we don’t have more devices that we can put into people that can do more for them.”

Ackerman knows firsthand about medical technology and its advantages and limitations. “I’ve been on an insulin pump for about 14 years. I have mixed feelings about it,” he confesses. “It’s not particularly technologically innovative. When you use a pump or some other medical device, the temptation is to say the device is going to take care of things, but you have to understand the device has limitations.”

Yet Ackerman seems to have few. When he was in medical school he took part in a diabetic mountaineering expedition to Argentina’s Cerro Aconcagua, the tallest peak in the western hemisphere at nearly 23,000 feet. Although he didn’t attempt to reach the summit, he did make it as high as 18,000 feet.

Ackerman urges young patients, those who are learning for the first time that they have diabetes, not to worry too much about limitations.

“I’ve told patients and their parents, ‘I have diabetes, and a kid can grow up to be relatively normal, doing mostly what they want.’ The parents have told me that it was reassuring to see someone with the disease who has made it past 20, who’s married, who’s made it through medical school, and who seems so normal,” says Ackerman, with a smile.