Cardiovascular Pioneers of tomorrow are being educated by innovative educators like Fangli Xiong (FX), Lecturer in the School of Mechanical & Aeronautical Engineering at Singapore Polytechnic. ViVitro Product Manager, Joe McMahen (JM) asked Xiong to discuss her work at Singapore Polytechnic and tell readers how she is using the Pulse Duplicator to help develop cardiovascular expertise.
JM: Please tell us about your current work with aortic valves at Singapore Polytechnic
FX: We have been collaborating with Nanyang Technological University and National Heart Centre of Singapore in various projects. Researchers and clinicians came to us for collaboration because they knew that we have the newest ViVitro system in our lab. In one project, we explored the possibility of using a synthetic material, ePTFE, to construct a three-leaflet aortic valve that has similar leaflet geometry to the native valve. We used the ViVitro system to compare the hemodynamic performance of the ePTFE valve with a tissue valve made from animal pericardium. The results were also used to validate the results from computational modeling.
In another project, we studied coronary stenosis in a patient-specific coronary tree model. The objective is to see if it is feasible to conduct diagnostic measurement to determine degree of narrowing non-invasively in a simulated environment based on medical imaging data and rapid prototyping technique. We feel that the ViVitro system is a very versatile tool which can be directly used or slightly modified for a wide variety of research purposes.
JM: How is the work going?
FX: So far, most of the projects did not go exactly where we had wanted. However, the experience we gained was precious, from which we were still able to obtain some interesting insights. The ViVitro system in Singapore Polytechnic was newly acquired. I believe lots of more work can be done with the system in the near future.
JM: What has been the most exciting part of your efforts to date?
FX: The ViVitro system in Singapore Polytechnic has mainly been used for students’ projects and course work. The most exciting part would be to see students’ satisfaction and success in their learning. In one of the students’ projects, a group of my final year project students were tasked to modify the ViVitro system to test a new prosthetic aortic valve. They completed design, fabrication, and hemodynamic testing in less than three months and finally won a Silver award in our annual school engineering show.
JM: What is your approach to instructing undergraduate students about cardiovascular therapies and interventions?
FX: Our polytechnic students have a very unique profile. They tend to learn better by experimenting and discussing rather than reading. Therefore, for each module, we have designed lots of activities and lab experiments to help them relate better to the theories taught in class. In one experiment, the students working in groups have to learn to operate the ViVitro system, plot pressure and flow waveforms under various physiological and pathological conditions, and write a report about their findings through group discussion. I feel that this learning-by-doing approach helped my students retain what they have learned longer.
JM: How does the Pulse Duplicator fit into coursework?
FX: I am teaching a subject called Biofluids which is basically fluid mechanics applied in the cardiovascular system. At the same time, I am also supervising final year projects for students in the bioengineering course. The system has been used for students’ projects and practical lessons. In practical lessons, students have to understand how the system works and plot pressure and flow waveforms under normal and pathological conditions. The system helped them tremendously in understanding the basic key concepts such as compliance, resistance, preload and afterload. Besides coursework, the ViVitro system has also been an excellent tool for promotion of our bioengineering course to the public.
JM: Do you have any advice for other instructors?
FX: The ViVitro Pulse Duplicator system is perfect equipment to teach cardiovascular physiology. It is very suitable to be used as a lab experiment in practical lessons. I did encounter some problems at first. The biggest problem is availability in resources and teachers’ instruction time. We had just one ViVitro system in the lab which could allow only one small group of students working on it during the allocated class time. To solve this problem, I divided a big class into small groups. The groups had to work out a schedule to take turns to conduct the experiment at their preferred time slots.
The Pulse Duplicator system is not easy to operate for first-time users. Our teaching staff were usually too busy to be able to give face-to-face instructions for every group. Therefore, I recorded a video on detailed operational procedures you provided during your visit and also gave out handouts to students highlighting key theoretical, procedural, and safety points. This approach worked. The students were able to operate the system and complete the report to our satisfaction by simply following the video and the handouts. I would recommend this approach to other instructors looking to use the ViVitro Pulse Duplicator as part of their course curriculum.
JM: What are your plans for the future?
FX: We will continue to use the ViVitro Pulse Duplicator system in our curriculum to train our students. I also hope to use the system as a magnet to attract more collaboration projects from local clinicians and researchers. If other instructors were interested in advice on training students with the system, they can contact me at: Xiong_Fangli@sp.edu.sg.