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Lab Looks To Combat Deadly Diseases

Published: April 3, 2017

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering’s David Stout has a Biosafety Level (BSL) 2 Laboratory at CSULB. Its mission is to combat some of the world’s deadliest diseases.

In two recent undertakings, Stout’s lab looked at cardiovascular disease with an eye towards creating what he called “a Band-Aid for the heart” while other students tested a high-tech condom in an effort to fight STDs, HIV and unwanted pregnancies.

“You need an out-of-the-box perspective to come up with a Band-Aid for the heart,” said Stout, a member of the university since 2014. “As engineers, we are trained to look at materials and use them to solve problems. We looked at heart tissue from a biological perspective. Heart tissue dies in a heart attack and does not regenerate. We designed a heart patch that acts as a scaffold to maintain stem cells that would be placed onto the dead tissue (or infarcted) area of the heart to improve stem cell differentiation and grown around and over the dead tissue acting as a permanent Band-Aid. In the future, we hope that we would be able to extract stem cells from a patient, grow the cells and place them onto the heart-patch and then transplant the heart-patch into the patient, making a patient-specific medical solution.”

Stout’s lab also tested, researched and developed a design by inventor Charlie Powell for a condom called “the Galactic Cap.”

“But the design was created without understanding the Federal Drug Administration’s protocols and procedures,” Stout explained. “Together with a student, we came up with a design, materials and how to present the data.”

One roadblock they encountered was how to test it. Would it be in vivo or would it be outside human interaction? Stout sat down with his students to come up with an apparatus that would mimic sexual interaction from the perspectives of force, material and heat.

“Our engineers suggested building the system from scratch using an electrical drive shaft,” Stout said. “In the Mechanical and Aerospace machine shop, we developed a device eventually wired together by an electrical engineering major. We custom-built everything. We put it together, turned it on and it worked.”

By blocking semen, the Galactic Cap prevents one method of HIV transmission. HIV is transmitted through semen or blood. However, many other STDs—HPV, herpes and syphilis, among others—are spread through skin-to-skin contact. Stout cites worldwide condom use at 5 percent and condom use in developing countries topping off at 20 percent.

“After a certain amount of iterations, how does the material interact? Does it break or bend? Does it stay where it is supposed to stay? Looking at the research strictly from the material point of view, and looking at the interaction, it looks like it will work,” Stout added. “The research we do in the lab is definitely revolutionary. People are now willing to use a condom instead of having to.”

Stout received his B.S. degree in aerospace engineering with a minor in chemistry from CSULB in 2010 and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering in 2014 from Brown University.

David Stout
David Stout

The lab works with such College of Engineering professional partners as Xerox on health care systems.

“When certain implants first appeared many years ago, they were made of aluminum or titanium. Fast forward to now when we have carbon-based and porcelain materials,” he said. “I worked one research project that used titanium hip replacements covered with lab-grown diamonds. We could actually coat titanium which reduces the wear and tear to the human body. This extends the implant’s life from 10-15 years to a possible 20-25 years. More importantly, we can help the body re-grow bone at the connection between metal and the bones.”

He estimates between 75 and 80 percent of the biomedical engineering research students have a personal story that is attached to their study. One of his students researches how a 3D printer can create kidney cells because his mother suffers from kidney failure while another pursues pancreatic research to devise a material that can assist with that research because he has a sibling who is insulin-dependent. “I think that’s really cool,” said Stout.

This kind of research reflects the overall mission of the lab—to combat disease.

“We’re a bunch of different engineers who worked on the condom design,” explained Stout. “We are not biologists or chemists. We are mechanical engineers, computer engineers and electrical engineers.”

Intellectual diversity is one key to the lab’s success.

“I’m an engineer going into the biomedical world,” said Stout. “One colleague has a Ph.D. in computer engineering and another has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. We come from completely different perspectives and we apply our expertise to the biomedical world. It is really cool to be this diverse because it results in out-of-the-box ideas.”

For the next few years, the lab will continue to look for solutions to biological problems.

“The students are really engaged,” he said. “Everyone in this lab is focused on helping someone with a disease or a biological issue. We all come together with an idea born of different perspectives.”