Cork woman Rachel Cahalane was awarded the Bronze Medal for the best overall presentation at the recent Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland Bioengineering Section Conference. Rachel was presented with the award for her research into developing a standard diagnostic tool to predict tissue response during various surgeries.
Rachel graduated top of her class with a Bachelor of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering in 2016 and is now completing her PhD in the Bernal Institute and the Health Research Institute under the supervision of Professor Michael Walsh.
The title of Rachel’s winning presentation was ‘Relating the Mechanical Properties of Atherosclerotic Calcification to Radiologically Classified Density: a Nano Indentation Approach.’
Arterial disease is the build-up of fatty plaques in the inner wall of the arteries. This accumulation of material causes significant blockages leading to tissue death. Furthermore, the rupture of these diseased materials is the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.
“In total arterial disease is responsible for 30% of deaths worldwide. Areas of calcified deposits exist in the majority of these plaques. These bone-like structures can cause major problems for traditional medical devices like stents, as the stents cannot fully expand,” Rachel explained.
“Our lack of knowledge on the behaviours of these tissues prevents the implementation of sophisticated new devices because there is a risk of other clinical complications occurring. In addition to this, there is currently no way of predicting how these tissues might behave during a minimally invasive surgery from a patient scan. Consequently, for people who are well enough for surgery – open surgical removal remains as the preferred method of treatment.
“In this project we wanted to see if density numbers acquired from a patient’s Computed Tomography (CT) scan are correlated with how hard these tissues are. CT scans are regularly acquired as part of the standard patient care. We carried out mechanical tests on samples we collected from University Hospital Limerick and related their hardness to what densities saw on the CT images to establish a relationship. This is the first step towards being able to use a standard diagnostic tool to foresee how tissues will behave during different kinds of surgeries so we can choose the right treatment for each individual patient. This research will hopefully optimise medical device designs and ultimately improve patient outcomes,” Rachel concluded.