2020 Summer Intern Report: Erin Wettstone


2020 Intern Erin Wettstone squareBackground
University of Virginia, Class of 2021

Low-cost Hydrophone System and Treatment System for Pancreatic Cancer Preclinical Trials

Project Overview
I worked alongside the intern preceding me to design a mechanical scanning system and graphical user interface (GUI) for a low-cost hydrophone scanning system. This system allows the user to set parameters for conducting scans of an acoustic pressure field created by an ultrasound transducer. Mapping the acoustic pressure field locates an ultrasound transducer’s focal spot position and intensity, which is imperative to understand before using a transducer for focused ultrasound treatment. The treatment system for pancreatic cancer preclinical trials consists of a mechanical assembly and treatment GUI that allows the user to clearly define the treatment volumes for cancerous tumor ablation in mouse models.

The goal of the low-cost hydrophone system was to create a system that produces pressure field scans at the same precision level as a professional-grade system but for a fraction of the cost. We also hope to make the GUI and construction manual accessible for researchers and business owners to implement in their own labs. For the pancreatic cancer preclinical trials, my goal was to create a system that both visually and computationally defined the treatment ablation process so that the user can safely target the tumor during procedures.

Project Outcomes
Scans produced by the hydrophone system recorded peak negative pressures of a 350-kHz focused transducer that were significantly comparable to those found using both a commercial hydrophone scanning system and the O’Neil mathematical model. Additionally, the budget for the system built at the Foundation came in just under $1,000 for all parts and pieces, while commercial systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars. The pancreatic cancer treatment system should be ready for use soon, and it should allow the preclinical study researchers to carry out safe, precise, and repeatable trials.

Why were you initially interested in working with the Focused Ultrasound Foundation?
I have a strong passion for incorporating health equity initiatives into my engineering career. Working for the Foundation presented a unique opportunity to grow my device design and engineering skills while also observing the company initiative to create awareness and accessibility for affordable treatment options.

Share some thoughts on your experience as an intern at the Foundation.
Overall, I think that my experience as a Foundation intern was one of personal and professional growth. My electrical wiring, coding, and mechanical construction skills were sharpened through immersive and hands-on projects that gave me the confidence to implement said skills in future career opportunities.

We also had the chance to attend webinars specifically tailored for interns, which helped pique my interest level in the application of focused ultrasound.

Beginning an internship in the middle of a global pandemic can certainly be challenging. Still, I think that the truly enriching and encouraging experience that I had this summer exemplifies the company’s resiliency to grow and welcome their interns.

What was the most important learning point of your internship experience?
Two things come to mind. The first being the moment that I realized I could actually wire electrical systems. In the past, circuit intricacies were a bit of a gray area for me. But, once I sat down, understood the details, and eventually created a well-functioning system, I felt much more confident in my circuit-building skills. The second learning point occurred during my introduction to the pancreatic preclinical trials project. Learning about the high mortality rate and complexity of the tumor treatment was eye-opening and motivated me to work hard on the project.

How will your accomplishments impact the field of focused ultrasound?
After the GUI and construction manual are made accessible and published to public forums, the low-cost hydrophone will help focused ultrasound teams  measure and locate the position of focused ultrasound transducers for treatment at a fraction of the cost. Using it will allow research teams and businesses to  allocate resources elsewhere in their studies. The pre-clinical treatment system will help solidify the application of focused ultrasound to pancreatic cancer, which is an aggressive form of cancer in need of novel solutions.

Has your internship affected your career plans? If so, how?
Gaining confidence in my device design skills and learning about my advisors’ educational background this summer made me consider going to graduate school and pursuing a PhD in biomedical engineering.

What is one tip that you would give 2021 summer interns?
Stay organized and establish good communication lines with your advisors to discuss what you’ve accomplished, what you’re working on, and where you will need help.