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Modeling Innovation

4/18/2016

In 2014, the Science Alliance unveiled the Collaborative Cohort program. Designed to nurture collaboration between underrepresented UTK faculty and ORNL scientists, the program launched with an inaugural class of four, including Dr. Stephanie TerMaath of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering.

During her two years with the Cohort, TerMaath’s work has centered on advances in the treatment of hydrocephalus, a debilitating disorder caused by an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain. Currently the only treatment available to patients suffering from hydrocephalus is invasive surgery to implant a cerebral shunt.

TerMaath Final 2The shunt is inserted into the patient’s ventricle (a cavity within the brain) where it diverts the excess CSF fluid out and into another part of the body to be absorbed. Unfortunately, these shunts have a high failure rate and need to be replaced multiple times over the course of a patient’s life, statistically requiring anywhere from two to four surgeries as often as every ten years.

These flaws are TerMaath’s focus as her cohort work has sought to improve the shunt’s design through modeling and computational fluid dynamics. Her affiliation with the Collaborative Cohort has provided TerMaath the ability to support graduate student Sofy Weisenberg as she works with ORNL scientists Dr. Judy Hill and Dr. Charlotte Barbier.

“I would never have been connected with Judy and Charlotte without this program,” said TerMaath, a sentiment echoed by Weisenberg.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me as a graduate student to obtain a badge at Oak Ridge National Lab to collaborate with experts in the field,” Weisenberg said.

TerMaath’s work thus far has yielded a model she and her team will use to address what they believe to be a possible cause of the failures in existing shunts. She has plans to continue her work past the end of her Cohort term and credits her time in the program with providing the opportunity to forge the relationships and collaborations needed to do so.

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