COLORADO SPRINGS. In his quest to invent the light bulb, Thomas Edison was quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” St. Mary’s sophomores and Corpus Christi alums Cameron Baker and Justin Fauson can relate. They experienced many failures as they worked to use 3D printing technology to support two local multiple sclerosis practices. However, just as Edison did, Baker and Fauson persevered, and now their design will help area multiple sclerosis (MS) patients better understand their disease.
Baker and Fauson designed a 3D representation of the lesions that form on brains of MS patients. The idea came from Dr. Christen Kutz, who works with Colorado Springs Neurological Associates and whose daughter Payton attends St. Mary’s. A couple of years ago, Kutz had attended a conference in which attendees were given a 3D representation of an MS lesion. Kutz said she has used the model with patients, and it has been helpful for them to see a tangible representation of what is happening in their brains.
Kutz said she would have liked to give each patient a model of their own, but until now that was impossible. When she heard that St. Mary’s had a 3D printer, she asked MIke Kloenne, Project Lead the Way engineering teacher, if his students might be interested in creating a model that she could hand out to patients.
“With MS patients, there is an educational gap about what the lesions on the brain are,” Kutz said. “We can look at MRIs with the patients, but it’s hard for them to get a real understanding from just the MRI. The 3D models allow MS patients to have a better understanding of what is occurring within their bodies.”
Kloenne proposed the project to Baker and Fauson, who readily accepted the challenge. Fauson said that the design took about 15 hours total. Ten of those hours were spent experimenting with designs as the two taught themselves new components of a complex engineering software program to produce the asymmetrical shape they needed.
“It was challenging,” Fauson said. “I’m pretty experienced with Autodesk and thought it would be easy, but it was a lot of trial and error. Each time it didn’t work, we gained more information and applied that to the next design. In the end, we took everything we’d learned from what didn’t work with the old design and started over with a new design.”
The new design, which resulted in the final 3D model, took the pair only five hours to develop. Once that was complete, the students also designed a 3D representation of the nodules that form in the brains of people who suffer from chronic migraine headaches. The idea of applying what he had learned in his engineering classes to help others is what piqued Baker’s interest in the project.
“I felt good about the project and liked using engineering to meet a need,” Baker said. “For me it was the cause that fueled my interest in the project.”
Kutz and representatives from the MS Alliance recognized Baker and Fauson during a presentation on Nov. 6 at the school. Tammy Cruze and Nikki Pfeiffer from the MS Alliance, both of whom have MS, told those gathered that having the 3D representations of the brain lesions that cause MS will greatly benefit the patients that the MS Alliance works with.
“All disease is difficult to deal with, but with many, the progression is measurable and therefore easier to understand,” Pfeiffer said. “The things in life that are hardest to understand are those that are unknowns, and with MS, so much is an unknown. These 3D models help make the unknown more understandable for MS patients.”
St. Mary’s President Rob Rysavy said that the project was the perfect example of the commitment that St. Mary’s students have to bettering the world around them.
“People say that young people are our future, but I disagree,” he said. “You’re not our future — you are our now. This project shows how St. Mary’s students are improving people’s lives right now. They are taking real problems and finding solutions.”
(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School.