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When Dr. William DeCampli, a professor of surgery at the UCF College of Medicine, asked his surgical research fellow to find someone at UCF who could work with them on solving biomedical engineering problems related to congenital heart disease, he suggested Pegasus Professor Alain Kassab. The result, DeCampli says, is the most productive research partnership of his career.

Nearly 15 years later, the two have tackled a number of major problems in cardiovascular medicine and surgery. They’ve built computational models of the pathological cardiovascular system and of proposed surgical interventions. They’ve published numerous papers and their research has been supported over the years by organizations such as the American Heart Association, Additional Ventures and the Children’s Heart Foundation. Recently, they tackled another endeavor — the design and development of the doctoral degree in biomedical engineering.

The doctoral degree officially launched in fall 2022 under the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and follows the biomedical engineering master’s degree, which launched in 2016. One student has already graduated from the doctoral program while 12 others are currently enrolled.

Kassab, the director of the biomedical engineering program, credits much of its success to DeCampli’s support and partnership.

“Dr. DeCampli has been a staunch promoter of the BME program ever since we began our collaboration,” Kassab says. “He has been a superb mentor to our graduate and undergraduate students alike, opening unique opportunities for them to work on clinically grounded, cutting-edge problems at the interface of medicine and engineering.”

When Medicine Meets Engineering

Since biomedical engineering combines the science of medicine with the mechanics of engineering, it’s no surprise that DeCampli, also the chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, would team up with an engineer to tackle issues in the cardiovascular system.

One problem they may have found a solution for is the “failing Fontan,” a surgical procedure that fails more often than not. This procedure is the last of three that patients who are born with a single-chambered heart must go through to correct their blood circulation. The mortality rate for patients who receive the Fontan surgery is high, but DeCampli, Kassab and the rest of their research team may have found a way to overcome this.

“We have used computational fluid dynamics to evaluate the possible application of an injection jet to assist the Fontan circulation that is beginning to fail,” DeCampli says. “We have found encouraging results and are diving deeper into this problem.”

Co-collaborators on the injection jet research include Ray Prather ‘13 ‘15MS ‘18PhD, a senior research associate at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, and Eduardo Divo ‘98PhD, the senior associate dean of the College of Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University — both are MAE alumni and former students of Kassab.

Creating Opportunities for Students

Current students who want to be involved in research like this can find plenty of opportunities within the biomedical engineering program and beyond. DeCampli says that prospective students should keep in mind UCF’s proximity to major healthcare organizations that could provide the chance to gain industry experience.

“Students from UCF, as well as from other colleges and universities, who consider the biomedical engineering program should realize how well-situated this university is for learning and training in the field,” DeCampli says. “The campus is adjacent to a technology research and development park that includes numerous biomedical companies, and Orlando is the hub for two major health care systems —Orlando Health and Advent Health — that provide important clinical environments for translating and trialing basic research in biomedical engineering.”

He says the next steps for the biomedical engineering program are to expand the breadth of courses offered to graduate candidates and to build its multi-disciplinary network of faculty and industry researchers who can also serve as student mentors. The network will include faculty from across UCF as well as clinicians and engineers who are involved with sensor development, implantable devices, advanced imaging and space systems development. This biomedical brain trust will help students build a foundation for success — something that UCF already has a reputation for.

“What I already see in our biomedical engineering program is a high level of commitment from the faculty to teach and mentor their students, and to set them up for prominent careers in academia, industry and government,” DeCampli says. “That has always been an emphasis at UCF and will continue its tradition in the new doctoral program.”