Alisha Geldert, University of Virginia, Class of 2015
Major: Biomedical engineering
Project: Develop an adaptive model to predict temperature elevation of brain tissue based on skull parameters 

“As I began learning about focused ultrasound and its uses, I became fascinated by its potential to change the nature of surgery and other healthcare procedures.  I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the technology and contribute to its development, as well as help the Foundation in its mission to promote and accelerate the adoption of focused ultrasound.  I found that this internship would give me a good taste of both engineering and medical research.”

Project overviewI worked with JT Booth to develop an adaptive model to predict temperature elevation of brain tissue based on skull parameters.  This would help physicians determine the necessary power and duration of focused ultrasound sonications during essential tremor treatments, which would shorten the required treatment time.

Goals: At the start, I expected there to be some clear correlation between power and skull thickness or another simple measure which could be used to predict temperature elevation.  We soon realized that things were much more complex. 

AccomplishmentsAfter realizing that there was no straightforward, simple way to predict temperature elevation, we ed numerous approaches of calculating new measures of the skull, combining skull parameters, simulating temperature increase, and creating an adaptive model.  We have found a way to use skull parameters to predict temperature increase which is more accurate than using power and duration alone, although we may try to improve it further.  We also created a program to store and analyze treatment data, which allowed us to efficiently handle such large amounts of data.     

What is the most important learning point of your internship experience? Working at the Foundation has given me a clearer big-picture view of all the factors which contribute to the adoption of a new medical technology, from academic research to industrial application to legislation. No matter what side of the spectrum I choose to pursue as a career, it will be helpful to understand this larger framework and how my future work fits within it. Our project also helped me develop my critical thinking skills – I gained experience in looking at a huge amount of data and figuring out ways to summarize and draw meaningful conclusions from it.

How will your accomplishments impact the field of focused ultrasound? Our temperature elevation model, if further improved and implemented, could decrease the number of sonications necessary to treat patients with essential tremor, thus reducing treatment time. Our program makes it much simpler to read and summarize treatment data and could be used by other scientists who work with this data in the future.

How has your internship affected your career plans? The biomedical engineering experience I have gained through this internship has heightened my interest in the field. I would like to continue to work with new and promising medical technologies, because I found that working with focused ultrasound really motivated and excited me. I also enjoyed the programming component of our project, so I might look into work involving computer science as well. 

Do you have any other comments you’d like to share? I would like to thank the Foundation staff for being supportive and offering me this valuable opportunity, and especially Matt Eames, Arik Hananel, and John Snell for assisting us with our project.  

Written by Ellen C., McKenna

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