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Paul Fagette of Temple University, Historian of Biomedical Engineering, Named Museum Visiting Scholar

Continuing Work on Kolff Artificial Kidney Project

Washington, D.C. – June 7, 2010: An effort to further understand the importance of early developments in biomedical engineering is being led by the National Museum of Health and Medicine and its new visiting scholar Paul Fagette of Temple University. Fagette and a team of undergraduate mechanical engineering students are working to reverse-engineer a third-generation artificial kidney invented by Dr. Willem Kolff, the father of artificial organs, based on an example in the collections of the Museum in Washington, D.C. Fagette was named a visiting scholar in April 2010.

Fagette, who is a historian for the Biomedical Engineering Society, said a project like this will help students cultivate a deeper understanding of biomedical engineering and its applications.

"Certainly from a historic perspective, which is part of my mission, it is about getting engineering students to understand the past and to understand the basis of, in this case, where artificial organs began," Fagette said. "But for an engineering student, much of what they do is theoretical or it's virtual or it's based on more narrowly defined problem-solving processes. So to go back and understand in a reverse engineering sense how somebody conceived of, built and manipulated phenomena in order to deliver treatment, is a great learning experience because then what you would hope is that students would internalize that process and that they, in turn, could go on and make that same sort of contribution down the road."

After successfully working with the medical museum's staff and collections in 2008 and 2009 to build a replica of its Kolff-Brigham Drum, a second-generation artificial kidney device, Fagette and a new crop of students will come to the Museum later this year to work on another reverse-engineering project. The original Kolff-Brigham device, used to treat soldiers during the Korean War, is on display at the Museum. NMHM is a Department of Defense museum and an element of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

Fagette, an historian and adjunct assistant professor at Temple University, along with a team of Temple students and faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering will build a full-scale working model of the Baxter Travenol Twin Coil dialysis device, which first appeared in 1956. The machine was considered to be a more clinically-applicable dialysis treatment machine compared to Kolff's two previous designs, and Baxter Travenol accepted the design and marketed it from 1956 until the late 1970s. It was the most utilized dialysis treatment device for acute renal failure in the world, Fagette said.

"The third one is the last dialysis device that Kolff ever worked on," he said. "So there's a trilogy, and I wanted to— as I call the project— complete the loop."

Kolff, who died in 2009, was one of the world's leading pioneers in artificial organs research. He was involved in the development of the total artificial heart, the membrane oxygenator, the heart-lung machine, the intra-aortic balloon pump, the artificial arm and the artificial eye, and began the first blood bank in Europe. His medical inventions formed the basis for modern biomedical technology and have saved or extended countless lives. Kolff was awarded 13 honorary doctorates and received 127 awards for his lifetime achievements.

NMHM has one of the original third-generation Twin Coil devices and has made it available for research and study. Recently, however, Museum staff discovered that the artifact was missing some of its original parts, after the device had been repurposed to serve a different function. Fagette said this will make the project more challenging for students as they work to hunt down some of those original parts and reconstruct the Museum's machine before building their working replica.

Students and faculty will travel to the Museum beginning in the fall, to take photos of the device and make measurements leading to a working set of plans. After that, as part of the coursework, students will formulate a construction strategy, make up materials lists and then begin the building/machining process.

The engineering team, which will consist of eight undergraduate students, will be led by Fagette and Shriram Pillapakkam, Ph.D., a specialist in fluid dynamics with extensive experience in materials and machining technology.

The Temple team will be assisted by a senior biomedical engineering design team from The College of New Jersey. Three students, led by Dr. Connie Hall, coordinator of the college's Biomedical Engineering Program and Fagette's wife, will focus on the electrical aspects of the project.

Fagette said the project also allows him to fulfill his dual roles as a visiting scholar for the Museum and as a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society.

"I've written for the BMES [Biomedical Engineering Society] Bulletin for a number of years now— mostly about engineering education— and what I'm able to do through that is chronicle these projects and explain them through an educational point of view to the engineering community," Fagette said. "So there's a real benefit in doing that. The other benefit is that because it's happening at the Museum, I'm able to highlight this institution and expose it to more people in the profession so they understand that the Museum exists as a resource."

The Museum's visiting scholar program, now in its third year, enables very close collaboration between its staff and professional scholars, scientists and others who work together to address both academic advances and Museum activities.

"Our visiting scholar program extends the capacity of the Museum to make its collections useful in new arenas," said Adrianne Noe, Ph.D., Museum Director. "Dr. Fagette's work takes our collections and research missions onto the international stage and multiplies the value of the historical collections several fold. An object once collected as historic documentation now becomes an active tool for teaching and an obvious antecedent for future design solutions to biomedical engineering challenges. Working directly with the BMES places us squarely in an arena of active research and education, all while honoring the creativity and problem solving of the past."

The final reverse-engineering project will be formally presented in 2011 to the Willem Kolff Foundation during an artificial organs symposium in Leiden, the Netherlands. The symposium honors the 100thanniversary of Kolff's birth in Leiden. The Kolff-Brigham Drum was presented to the Willem Kolff Foundation in 2009 while Kolff's first artificial kidney device, the rotating drum, was donated to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

James Curley of the Museum's Historical Collections Division said he is looking forward to working with Fagette and the student/faculty teams on the new project.

"It does capture the spirit of Kolff and the spirit of discovery and design, inquiry and education," he said. "We're elated to be engaged in another design and educational project with Dr. Fagette."

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