Visiting high school students excited by career opportunities in biomedical imaging

Interested in a rewarding career in medicine? Consider a university program in physics or engineering.

These were words of advice given by Drs. Terry Peters, David Holdsworth and Jerry Battista to approximately 75 high school students enrolled in the Partners in Experiential Learning (PEL) program during a recent visit to BIRC labs at Robarts Research Institute.

To introduce the students to exciting research and career opportunities in the field of biomedical imaging, five demonstration stations were set up focusing on the principles and various applications of computed tomography (CT) imaging.

The first station was a miniature version of a clinical CT scanner, developed by Dr. Battista and Dr. Kevin Jordan and manufactured by London-based Modus Medical Devices. The DeskCAT Educational CT Scanner is used in the classroom for hands-on training to show how CT images are acquired and reconstructed. Since it replaces x-rays with visible light rays, it poses no risk from ionizing radiation.

The students also got to see the components inside an actual preclinical (animal) CT scanner. Post-doctoral fellow Dr. Sarah Detombe then scanned a small clock and used the CT data to reconstruct slice by slice a 3D image of the clock showing its internal structures.

Using a 3D printer, Dr. Holdsworth produced a stainless-steel replica of a mouse skeleton (shown above), based on the data from a mouse CT scan. Using biologically-compatible materials, biomedical engineers are exploring ways to harness the potential of 3D printing to create models for treatment planning or specialized medical implants.

To round out the tour, trainees Kamyar Abhari, Elvis Chen and Eli Gibson demonstrated how digital CT and other imaging data are used to diagnose disease and guide treatment. Students were introduced to an 'Augmented Reality' system with which neurosurgeons can plan an intervention prior to surgery. In this system, patient data such as 3D CT images are superimposed on a physical phantom, or model. This allows users to simultaneously see, and therefore take advantage of, both virtual and real-world surroundings.

Mr. Rodger Dusky, Director of the PEL program, described the presentations as impressive, with every station delivering a “wow” experience. “The BIRC researchers also created a very welcoming and engaging environment”, he added. “The students felt comfortable asking questions and it was very clear that the scientists are sincerely interested in mentoring young students and helping them to discover and make informed decisions about potential career paths.” 

Associated with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Strategic Training Program in Cancer Research & Technology Transfer (CIHR-STP CaRTT) (www.uwo.ca/oncology/CIHR/STP), PEL is a cooperative education program that places enthusiastic high school students in active STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) research environments. A number of PEL students are matched each year with BIRC labs across the city. According to Dusky, “health researchers who provide experiential learning environments and mentoring for motivated secondary school students create an important foundation step that will help increase the participation and success rates of our youth”.