Campus & Community

Stevens Student Awarded for Arthritis and Bacterial Infection Research by American Institute of Chemical Engineers

Nearly one-quarter of all adults experience some form of arthritis, leading to more than $100 billion annually in medical costs and earnings losses. A Chemical Engineering student from Stevens, David Monteiro, has conducted fundamental research that deepens our understanding of certain types of arthritis and brings medical science closer to effective treatments. Monteiro's research presentation recently took second place in an American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) conference.

Some crippling forms of arthritis are caused by bacterial infection in the joints, triggering inflammation, swelling and pain. Monteiro's study used synovial fluid, a viscous liquid found within joints that provides for lubrication and circulates oxygen and nutrients, to grow bacteria biofilms, incredibly resilient communities of bacteria that can produce powerful infections.

His research is providing new insight about the organisms that form biofilms and the mechanisms by which they are produced.

"It was previously thought that synovial fluid was a sterile environment, but this study proved that it is not true. Bacteria actually can survive in the fluid and membranes around your joints," said Moneiro.

But research on internal bacterial infections goes far beyond arthritis. Better understanding of bacteria biofilms is a necessity as scientists look to improve performance in the orthopedics industry, a nearly $20 billion market that grows as America's population ages.

Monteiro gained his first exposure to research working on this subject as a freshman in the lab of Dr. Woo Lee, George Meade Bond Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, who is inventing new ways to prevent infection in orthopedic implants. Since bacterial infections are difficult to cure and can result in implant failure, Dr. Lee and other researchers are developing unique implant materials and surfaces coated in antibiotic pharmaceuticals. Monteiro has helped create the microfluidic devices that grow three-dimensional tissue cultures for studying the effects of experimental pharmaceuticals on biofilms.

As a Cooperative Education student, Monteiro also gained professional experience in the biomedical field through a semester of employment at Stryker Orthopedics, where he worked on a project to enhance bone bonding on knee implants.

Monteiro believes that these diverse research and work experiences available through Stevens have given him the upper hand on future success in a scientific career.

"Research opportunities at Stevens and abroad have exposed me to different ways of thinking, different approaches to research, and different tools," Monteiro said. "Through co-op, I learned how being creative is critical to solving big problems, but that you also have to analyze the data seriously and not draw quick conclusions about how your research problem will resolve."

He feels these experiences have helped him become more mature as a scientist and as a person.

"You learn about the field and also about yourself," Monteiro said. "Dr. Lee provides a positive environment where you are challenged to learn but also trusted to make important achievements."

The award for David's research presentation came at the AIChE National Student Conference, an event that brings together student engineers from more than 100 schools to compete, network and learn about careers in chemical engineering. The 2011 National Student Conference was held last October in Minneapolis.