Josh Bailey

Mechanical Engineering (Bio-Medical Engineering)

A Backbone for Training

Joshua Bailey is helping to take some of the high-stakes pressure out of spinal surgery.

The Bradley senior didn’t developed a new painkiller or surgical tool; instead he and fellow senior Chris Frank are running a simulation to better prepare medical professionals for a difficult procedure. The mechanical engineering students are providing a tool for doctors, students and medical residents to operate on a realistic model of a pediatric spine.

The spinal model was initially designed and built by Matt Lesniak ‘12, Edna Lesle ‘12, graduate student Alyssa Macuk and Ankit Patel ‘12, a team of Bradley mechanical engineering students who developed the tool as part of a yearlong senior design project with Dr. Juilan Lin, a neurosurgeon at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Peoria. 

The replica is complete with synthetic skin, fat, muscle, scar tissue, bone and pressure sensors, allows doctors and students to practice the challenging surgery of detaching a spinal cord tethered somewhere in the lower back. The model mimics the feel and density of a child’s lower back with the birth defect of myelomeningocele, a condition where the backbone and spinal cord do not form or close normally.

To create the model, the group spoke with simulation professionals at Bradley and the medical school about which materials to use and developed the sensing system.

If the spinal cord is left tethered in a child, it can lead to pain, difficulty walking or a curved spine. Usually surgery detaches the cord but cutting it free requires a delicate touch. Too much pressure can damage or sever the cord, which can lead to paralysis.

Bailey and Frank have continued the senior design team’s work by using their model to run surgical simulations.

“The goal is to make it as realistic as possible and I think we’ve achieved that,” said Bailey, a Morton, Ill., native. “You need to have as much finesse as possible for this surgery.”

That’s why the pressure sensors, wired into a computer by the students, provide feedback on the surgery. They let the surgeon know if they are putting too much force on the scalpel. And the more practice on the anatomical model, the better prepared students and doctors will be before setting foot in an operating room. 

Each operation is filmed, too, allowing Bailey to show surgeons visually where and when they were slicing too rough or just right.

Although engineering students, Bailey and Frank are pursuing Bradley’s biomedical engineering concentration, which gives students an interdisciplinary education to apply their engineering skills in the fields of medicine and biology. Both said they are applying to medical school in the fall.

Bailey and Frank are running the experiment with Dr. Lin and work closely with their advisor Dr. Kalyani Nair, who coordinates the biomedical engineering concentration. 

So far, undergraduate students, medical students, surgical residents, a surgical fellow and a pediatric neurosurgeon have all taken a stab at the practice model inside a research laboratory at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. 

“The medical students have enjoyed practicing on it,” Frank said. “They say the feel of it is very realistic.”