Senior Chris Kampmeyer’s quest to design a potentially life-saving technology began with a wonky T-shirt.
During his freshman year, the shirts given to students participating in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Scholars Program in the Molecular Life Sciences helped inspire Kampmeyer to apply to the program. “It’s really dorky … it uses letters in such a way that it looks like a [biological] transcription is happening,” Kampmeyer says, talking about the shirt’s appeal. “They were amazing, though, so I wanted to get involved.”
As it turned out, there were other advantages to the program as well. As a Vagelos Scholar, Kampmeyer C’14 G’14 has spent the past year helping design a safer coronary stent, a device which 2 million people receive each year.
A coronary stent is a tiny mesh tube that doctors insert in narrow or weakened arteries to improve blood flow. Among other things, they can help reduce chest pain in patients suffering atherosclerosis, a condition that elevates the risk of heart attack if untreated.
Stents have also attracted controversy, however, partly because they can lead to complications including blood-clot formation.
Juan M. Jimenez, a research associate at the Perelman School of Medicine with whom Kampmeyer is working, believes he may have a found a way to reduce this problem: by changing the stent’s shape. Most stent manufacturers incorporate a rectangular stent strut into their design. In 2007 Jimenez hypothesized that the corners of these stents have a geometry that effectively catalyzes clotting.
In a series of experiments, Jimenez and Kampmeyer have found that this indeed seems to be the case: rectangular stent struts seem to lead to a greater build-up of fibrin, a protein associated with blood clotting. They have also found that a circular-arc stent structure streamlines blood flow better, thus reducing fibrin deposition.
Circular-arc stents are more expensive to manufacture, but Jimenez and Kampmeyer hope their work will illuminate the potential payoff.
“Stent implantations are becoming more and more popular,” Kampmeyer says, “and in order to prevent them from causing problems for patients in the future, we need to alter the stent strut design.”
—Matt Fernandez C’14