BIOE 301/362 - Bioengineering and World Health


The course project provides an opportunity for the students to explore a public health problem which affects both the US and developing countries and work in teams to develop a solution over the course of the semester. 

Project Task 1: Define a public health problem facing a particular country or region of the world.
You may select your topic from a wide range of heath issues - you must simply demonstrate that the chosen issue significantly and adversely affects the lives of people in the country or region you have selected.  Write a one-page summary of your disease including: epidemiology, prevalence, and incidence in the region you have selected; pathophysiology of the disease; physical signs and symptoms of the disease. 

Project Task 2: Evaluate current technology meant to address the issue.
Assess the effectiveness and efficacy of current devices or strategies employed to prevent, diagnose or treat the disease.  What are the limitations? Are current solutions available only to a limited population due to cost or other factors?  Could alternate materials or approaches be used to reduce the overall cost?  Is there another strategy/design that has never been tried? Write a one-page summary of: (1) Current methods for prevention and their limitations; are these available in the region you have selected?  (2) Current methods for diagnosis and their limitations; are these available in the region you have selected? (3) Current treatments and their limitations; are these available in the region you have selected?

Project Task 3: Evaluate current policy designed to develop or implement solutions to the problem.
What investments is the health system in the region you have selected making to develop or implement new solutions?  Are there other efforts from the private or public sectors to develop new solutions?  Are there investments in basic or applied research? Are large clinical trials underway to test new solutions? What are the limitations of these approaches? Write a one-page summary of current health policy regarding the health problem/region you have selected.

Project Task 4: Define the problem that your design will address.
In this task, you will likely need to be much more specific about the particular problem you are trying to solve. For example, you may have identified the need for better treatments for tuberculosis in Project Tasks 1-3.  In this task, you may want to consider the particular problem of developing a treatment for tuberculosis that increases patient compliance.  Turn in a one-page summary of the specific health need that your design will address. 

Project Task 5: Define the constraints that a solution must satisfy.
These should be quantitative measures that include both technical performance and economic constraints that your solution must satisfy. If there are existing solutions, you should identify the performance capabilities and cost of these solutions.  Your solution should provide an advantage compared to existing solutions.  You should carefully justify trade-offs made between expected performance and cost.  Examples of constraints that you might consider include necessary educational level of primary user, detection limits of new diagnostic methods, efficacy rates of new therapies, power requirements, cost and size.  Turn in a one page table summarizing the design constraints for your problem.  Each row in the table should indicate a specific constraint (e.g. unit cost of device).  The table should include at least two columns – one or more which represents the current performance of available technologies and one which represents the constraint that your design must satisfy.

Project Task 6: Gather informationregarding current research and development efforts.
What research and development efforts are currently underway to solve the health problem that you have identified?  Write a one-page summary of this research, summarizing what is known about the effectiveness or limitations of these current procedures.

Project Task 7: Develop an alternative solutionthat meets the constraints you specified.
This could be either an improvement to an existing device or a completely new strategy.  For example, if your project is to develop alternative TB therapies, you might propose an alternate drug delivery mechanism (e.g. patches, controlled-release injections, implantable devices, etc) that could be used to deliver 6 to 9 months of TB therapy without requiring frequent physician visits or daily drugs. Remember, improvements are not limited only to changes in device design, but may also include increasing availability of the device to health care workers in the field or decreasing the cost to manufacture and distribute a health technology.  Turn in a one page summary of your new solution.  The summary should include the following: (1) overview of your design, (2) scientific principles of the design, (3) expected benefits of the design, (4) potential risks associated with the design, (5) a plan to determine whether the design meets the constraints specified in Task 7.

Project Task 8: Construct a prototypefor an in class demonstration and design review.
The audience for your presentation will be a scientific review panel from the World Health Organization.  The panel will review the proposed designs and decide which efforts will receive funding to move into the development phase.  Therefore, you must convince the panel of the severity of the problem as well as the efficacy of the proposed design.  Your prototype does not need to actually function, but it should illustrate the scientific principles of the device as well as the ways in which it satisfies the design requirements.  In constructing your prototype, we suggest that you use common household materials (plastic wrap, aluminum foil, cardboard, etc) to illustrate how the device would work.  You are limited to a total materials cost of $10. You should be prepared for questions from the review panel following your presentation.

Project Task 9: Design a clinical trial to test your new technology.
In this task, you will design a clinical trial to test the new technology that you have developed.; As part of this design, you must choose the subjects to be tested including the control group (receives standard of care) and the experimental group (receives new technology).  You must specify the primary and secondary outcomes that you will monitor in the trial.  You must calculate a statistically justified sample size for the trial.  Complete the table below and provide a one page summary of the trial design and sample size justification.


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Rice University | Department of Bioengineering
Funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute