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Biomedical engineers create automated slicing device for prostate testing

Prostate Slicer Senior Design team

A group of five seniors in the biomedical engineering department combined skills and technical knowledge to create an automated slicing device to help pathologists with samples from prostate surgeries.

The group built a semi-functional prototype and computer-aided design program for pathologists who work with radical prostatectomy samples. The team members include Anazaret Rodriguez, Jesvin Sebastian, Kai Yang, Sem Belay, and Una Tinley.

After a prostatectomy — a surgical procedure for the partial or complete removal of the prostate that is performed to treat prostate cancer or benign prostate gland enlargement — a pathologist must slice the prostate crosswise from apex to base so it can be tested.

Speed is critical during this part of the process because the prostate tissue is prone to autolysis, where cells or tissue are destroyed by their own enzymes.

The team created a semi-automated device that can produce uniform slices and reduce the amount of time needed to slice. But moving quickly and creating the incredible thin slices needed for testing can be extremely challenging.

“Obtaining uniform 2.5 mm thick slices can be difficult because the pliable nature of the prostate can lead to bulging and deformation from the pressure applied by the knife,” Rodriguez said.

Creating a prototype and program precise enough for medical use was challenging for the group. They cited one example that involved getting a functional Arduino code to reciprocate the functionality of the motion they needed to slice the prostate.

“It really took a group effort in order to get this working,” the group explained. “None of the individuals in the group had prior experience in coding stepper motors, so we needed to research how to do it. This was a tedious process, as we had to get a good grasp of how the stepper motor libraries in Arduino worked.”

Rodriguez added that they were grateful to each other as a team for their ability to adapt, learn and implement to solve problems quickly.

“The term engineers really seemed to fit when we were working together to solve problems and design challenges,” Rodriguez said.