On April 15, 2015, Gavin D’Souza, a mechanical engineering student in CEAS, was recognized for his outstanding master’s thesis work at the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools’ annual meeting. Out of all the master’s theses nominated by MAGS member institutions (over 70 colleges and universities in total are eligible to nominate a student for this award), Gavin’s thesis was named the winner of the 2015 MAGS/ProQuest Distinguished Master’s Thesis Awards, physical sciences and engineering category.
Gavin’s thesis, Influence of Serial Coronary Stenoses on Diagnostic Parameters: An In-vitro Study with Numerical Validation, focuses on an issue that arises with certain cases of coronary artery disease (more commonly known as heart disease): When a patient has multiple blockages (“stenoses”) in their coronary artery, how can doctors accurately diagnose the severity of each blockage? Past research has focused on evaluating a single blockage in the coronary artery. However, when Gavin conducted his initial research, he found that the current methods used to evaluate coronary artery disease within the artery could potentially misdiagnose the severity of each blockage when multiple blockages were present.
Heart disease may sound like an odd topic for a mechanical engineer’s thesis research, but it’s all about fluid dynamics. Currently, the severity of a blockage is identified by examining its impact on blood flow or blood pressure within the artery. However, if other blockages are present, those blockages will also impact blood flow and blood pressure. In order to correctly assess the severity of each blockage—and determine which blockage should be given highest priority for treatment—Gavin turned to engineering principles.
“The focus of this research was to apply this other parameter—based on fundamental fluid mechanics—that deals with combining pressure and flow, rather than just looking at pressure through the vessel or flow through the vessel,” says Gavin. His research shows that by examining both pressure and flow, “you basically delineate the effect of one stenosis (or blockage) over the other. This will help provide accurate diagnoses.”
Gavin credits his advisor Dr. Rupak Banerjee, a faculty member in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and his fellow students in Banerjee’s Transport in Engineering and Medicine Laboratory with making it possible for Gavin to finish his thesis. “My advisor [Dr. Banerjee] gave me the idea and his advice helped me get through this thesis. And I don’t think I would have done it without the help of my lab mates.”
Gavin hopes that his research leads to a new diagnostic measure that will one day be used in the doctor’s office. “I always wanted to do something that could improve health care and be able to use my skillset to improve treatment,” Gavin says. “So I hope [my research] eventually serves to treat patients with heart disease.” His master’s research has already gained some initial interest, thanks to two journal publications (articles in the Journal of Biomechanical Engineering and Journal of Medical Devices) and awards won at two conference presentations (first and second place for Best Student Paper competition at the ASME Summer Bioengineering Conference, 2013 and ASME Frontiers in Medical Devices Conference, 2013, respectively).
The novel topic and potential significant impact of Gavin’s research is why he was chosen to represent UC in the physical sciences and category of the MAGS Distinguished Thesis Award competition. The regional competition recognizes recent master’s graduates who have demonstrated exceptional scholarship in their theses. Ainsley Lambert, currently a doctoral student in sociology, was selected to represent UC in the social sciences category.
Gavin has continued his graduate education at UC as a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, with Dr. Banerjee as his advisor. It would seem that medical research is in Gavin’s blood, as his doctoral research project with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center aims to improve non-invasive methods for evaluating congenital heart disease in children.