Stevens Researcher Awarded NIH Grant to Improve Treatment for Acute Lung Injury

6/11/2013

Dr. Carrie E. Perlman, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering, has been awarded a grant by the National Institutes of Health for her research on acute lung injury.  Mechanical ventilation, the current treatment for acute lung injury, unfortunately causes a secondary, over-distension injury that exacerbates the initial lung condition. Dr. Perlman hopes that her work will lead to an alternative treatment that would cause less or no secondary damage.  Acute lung injury, while not widely known, has an incidence of nearly 200,000 per year in the United States and a mortality rate in excess of 35%.  Such lung injury can arise as a consequence of a variety of medical disorders or injuries, such as sepsis, pneumonia, and severe trauma.

“Improving clinical healthcare continues to be one of the most urgent and complex challenges faced by society.  In response to this prevalent need, Stevens has moved to the forefront of efforts to advance medical technology,” says Dr. Michael Bruno, Dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science. “Dr. Perlman’s scientific contributions will establish a foundation for future healthcare innovation.”

How mechanical ventilation exacerbates acute lung injury is not fully understood. However, ventilation is thought to over-distend a structure called the alveolus. The alveolus is the smallest air-space in the lungs and the site of oxygen entry into the bloodstream. The alveolar walls are thin membranes that contain elastic tissue and are coated by a liquid layer with surface tension at its interface. When air enters the lungs, it must work against both tissue elasticity and surface tension to expand the alveoli.

“Our goal is to protect the alveoli from over-distension.  In one approach, we are designing a custom ventilation pressure waveform to minimize alveolar stretch,” says Dr. Perlman. “Our second approach involves manipulating alveolar surface tension.  As surface tension is a major determinant of the pressure required to inflate the lungs, altering it may be key in protecting the alveolus.”

Working with Dr. Perlman to tackle this problem are Ph.D. candidates Angana Banerjee Kharge and You Wu. Dr. Perlman introduced them to the study of pulmonary mechanics and both were attracted by the clinical applications of the research. “As I am interested in medical device design, I particularly appreciate the clinical relevance of my research with Dr. Perlman,” says Ms. Kharge, who is using a new technique to make the first measurements of surface tension in edematous alveoli. 

Ms. Wu, who is developing safer ventilation strategies for patients with pulmonary edema, shifted disciplines upon joining Dr. Perlman’s laboratory. “My previous research experience focused on medical electronics,” says Ms. Wu. “I am now gaining expertise in a new area, biomechanics, yet still using my electrical engineering background in designing custom instrumentation for my experiments.”  

Both students recently presented their work at the prestigious American Thoracic Society International Conference in Philadelphia.

As the most recent addition to the laboratory, Jeff Bellanich began his thesis for a Master’s degree in biomedical engineering at the same time as he was completing his final undergraduate semester. Under the guidance of Dr. Perlman, Mr. Bellanich is performing computational modeling that will be used to guide experimental studies. “I joined Dr. Perlman’s lab after taking one of her courses,” says Mr. Bellanich. “I like the way she works and teaches, and so chose her as my thesis advisor.”

Dr. Perlman has conducted in-depth studies of the mechanics of alveolar expansion, in the healthy lung and with edema.  She earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Northwestern University. She has worked as a medical device design engineer for an industrial design firm. Prior to joining Stevens, Dr. Perlman was a postdoctoral fellow in physiology at Columbia University.

About the Department of Chemistry, Chemical Biology and Biomedical Engineering

The mission of the Department of Chemistry, Chemical Biology, and Biomedical Engineering (CCBBME) is to exploit the natural interdependence of science and engineering, to maintain comprehensive educational programs, and to conduct innovative and purposeful chemistry and biology research that will both inform and be informed by biomedical engineering applications. CCBBME fulfills the larger mission of Stevens Institute of Technology, which creates new knowledge and educates and inspires students to acquire the competencies needed to lead in scientific discovery and in the creation, application and management of technology to solve complex problems and to build new enterprises. Learn more: www.stevens.edu/ses/ccbbme/