Focused on providing health care solutions through bioengineering methods, Dean works to impact health care through basic and applied science methods. At a fundamental level, she seeks to understand nanoparticle interactions with cells along with cell mechanics and properties. These small-scale interactions and modeling help drive understanding of cell mechanics and develop therapies for a variety of medical needs. Translating her bioengineering research into solutions for health care needs, Dean is dedicated to using innovation, both high-tech and low-tech, to solve problems, often through new materials and procedures. One such example is a metal detector that can be used to detect titanium, which is common in clips used prior to breast cancer surgeries. Typically patients have titanium clips left in the spot of a biopsy that have to be surgically located prior to tumor removal. This innovation mitigates the need for the additional surgery. The patented technology is just one of several ways Dean works with her students to develop health care innovations.
Through partnerships in Tanzania and India, Dean and her students have traveled to rural villages to assist in repairing medical equipment and learn about the unique challenges in delivering medical care in remote settings. These interactions, both in person and remotely via technology, drive global learning and innovation in Dean’s lab and in the field of bioengineering. Through this hands-on research, Dean’s students have developed a variety of low-resource medical devices to aid care in rural settings. From low-cost sensors that detect early stages of kidney disease to a cervical collar made from Africangrasses, the work Dean has inspired in her students, and helped engineer, has led to several patents and other open-sourced solutions in health care.
Through all of Dean’s research and work with her students, it is evident that her desire is to work on projects to address health care issues; this translational aspect of her work is rewarding. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Dean has established Clemson’s first high-complexity CLIA-certified clinical diagnostics lab on campus, which can run up to 9,000 PCRsaliva-based patient tests per day. She has been able to shift some of the ongoing research to look at how technologies she and her students are developing could contribute to supporting current needs. One such example is a low-resource urinalysis device sensor that was initially intended to detect kidney disease and has since been modified to detect SARS-COV-2 in wastewater.
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