Carnegie Mellon’s Sanna Gaspard Works To Develop Tool
To Ease Cost and Stress of Deadly Bedsores
PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University’s Sanna Gaspard is developing a handheld diagnostic device to detect annoying and costly bedsores, also known as pressure ulcers, for patients worldwide.
"I’ve always wanted to make a difference, and creating a tool that can potentially help ease pain and improve the detection of pressure ulcers, a persistent and pervasive problem for nursing homes and hospitals, is helping me achieve my goals," said Gaspard, a 27-year-old Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon.
Research shows that more than one in 10 nursing home patients develop bedsores, most often over bony, prominent surfaces such as the elbow, tailbone, heel, hip, shoulder and the back of the head. Treating one of these painful, often-preventable sores, can cost between $38,000 and $55,000, according to national health data.
"This is very important research because bedsores or pressure ulcers result from a lack of, or limited, blood flow to the affected area that can lead to limb amputation or death. Pressure ulcers commonly afflict people who have limited mobility or who are immobile, such as the elderly, patients (adults and children) in intensive care units and the handicapped," said Gaspard, who recently won a $10,000 Innovation Technology Award from the Center for Integration of Medicine and Technology for patent-pending technology.
Her new detection tool is designed to spot the initial irregularities in the skin indicative of a bedsore, despite the masking effects of the patient’s skin color or the clinician’s skill level, before the bedsore is clinically identifiable by current standard diagnostic techniques.
Todd Przybycien, a professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and Gaspard’s Ph.D. advisor, praised Gaspard for her creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. "Sanna’s unique mix of creativity, resourcefulness and drive coupled with her strong work ethic make me think of her as the ‘Energizer Bunny’ of biomedical engineering. She is particularly good at knocking down obstacles in the way of her research goals. She is poised to have a great impact in the biomedical device community," Przybycien said.
Ultimately, Gaspard says she wants to start her own biomedical company and develop a cache of tools and programs to improve the quality of life for a broad segment of the population. "I want to help others," she said.
Her altruism took center stage in 2007, when she successfully qualified for and competed in the Austin, Texas, Global Moot Competition, a worldwide competition for competitive entrepreneurial business plans, by showcasing a patent-pending therapeutic medical instrument she developed to improve the survival rates of premature infants. A native of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, Gaspard had initially wanted to be a neonatologist, but she was uncomfortable working in a hospital environment. But, her natural drive to deconstruct objects and her love for the sciences that began as a young child prompted her to continue her pursuit of a biomedical engineering degree.
"I earned my bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering at the University of Miami in Miami, Fla., before landing at Carnegie Mellon in August 2004 to pursue a graduate degree in biomedical engineering, and to continue my pursuit of the design and development of novel medical devices and instruments that can improve patient care," Gaspard said. She also was invited this summer to study in Trento, Italy, at a program sponsored by the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE), July 20-24 at the International Measurement University.
Pictured above is Sanna Gaspard, a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering.