Personal connections spark innovation at Carle College of Medicine : Culture : Smile Politely

A ha moment for Dylan Mann came during a visit with his family. Mana’s older cousin, a teenager, suffers from cerebral palsy, and moving can be difficult for him.

“All three of my cousins ​​are flying out the front door and jumping, trying to run to greet us,” Mann said. “He can move quite well, but it’s hard for him to run.”

One of the symptoms of his cousin is spasticity or abnormally tense muscles.

“I remember growing up, first learning to walk and first learning to speak, some of the adaptations and changes they had to make so he could do these things,” Mann said. “But in the end, he did exceptionally well and he can really do everything that everyone else his age can.”

Photo courtesy of Dylan Mann.

Mann is a fourth-year medical student at Charles Medical College. Mann along with two dozen other medical students at the school is involved in a major project before graduation. The project invites students to innovate in medicine. For Mana he saw that his innovation was right up to him.

“I watched both of his younger siblings quickly get ahead of him, and I realized,” Mann said. “I saw that his knee just didn’t work.”

Mann realized that he has the ability to help his cousin and other people like him find it easier to walk and run. Some people with cerebral palsy rely on uneven gait while running, which involves swinging the leg to the side to compensate for the difficulty of bending the knee. Mann knew he could help his cousin fix that gait so he could run as well as his younger siblings.

“We’re looking for people who have more spasticity in the extensor muscles than in the flexor muscles,” Mann said. “So straightening their knees isn’t that hard, but they have a lot of problems with bending the knee because these big powerful muscles that help you straighten your knee are constantly fighting when you’re trying to bend your knee.

The origins of Mana are suited to the innovation he developed. Originally planning to become a prosthetist, he earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Iowa. Eventually, he decided to enroll in medical school to work more closely with patients and specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Image from Charles Medical College.

He came up with the bionic knee: a wearable device that provided little help to the knee every time it had to bend.

“We spent quite a bit of time, much more than many other groups, just on the design process,” Mann said. “We knew what we wanted to do, but we needed to break it down into how we’re going to do it.”

Photo courtesy of Patrick Park.

Fortunately, medical students are not working alone on their major projects. Mann enlisted the help of another medical student, an undergraduate student of engineering and business, and an MBA student. Most of the team was recruited, but one member picked up the idea when he first heard about it. Patrick Parks is a student who earns a master’s degree in business administration virtually through the university’s iMBA program. As part of his studies he was given the opportunity to choose one of the major projects to help with a friend.

“This project really spoke to me because it serves the cerebral palsy community and I am a person with cerebral palsy,” Parks said.

Parks said he has played many different roles on the team. First of all, he gave the business an understanding of how to make Mana’s dream a reality, but he also gave some confirmation to the team that their project is needed.

“I felt I could potentially add a lot of value to this project,” Parks said. “Being a person with cerebral palsy, going through these rehabilitation settings and interacting with a lot of the equipment and techniques that are part of physiotherapy.”

Although this is where the innovation began, the bionic knee is not just for people with cerebral palsy. Mann said its use was wide and varied. “You can develop muscle spasticity in a variety of ways,” Mann said. “It could be from a car accident, a stroke, any brain injury can lead to great spasticity,”

Team innovation can be used in any situation, such as rehabilitation. Parks said the reason the project spoke to him was that it could be used in the real world. “I’ve seen a lot of these classroom innovations happen within institutions, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, universities, but I think the biggest gap is that they provide technologies that are accessible to ordinary families, not just like part of research research ”.

Many innovations that were originally designed to make life easier for people with disabilities have also made life easier for able-bodied people. Parks said a bionic knee could be the first step to something much bigger.

“Often things can be designed as a solution for people with disabilities and create a better experience for everyone,” Parks said. “I benefit from automatic doors just as much as new parents who push a stroller. I think we can all benefit from innovations that make it easier to navigate the world. ”

Knee is far from a finished product – Mann and Parks said the team is still in the prototype stage – but accepting the idea and proving it works means no less to them. “The device in its current state is certainly not ready to put on a patient and make him walk around the room,” Mann said. “But what he’s capable of is illustrating what we’re doing and showing that the concept of the device works, and that was really our goal last semester.”

Karl Medical College highlights other innovations stemming from this year’s major projects. To learn more, visit

Top image from Charles Medical College.

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