Each year, for the past seventeen years, NAVS has honored promising young scientists at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world’s largest science competition for high school students.
At Intel ISEF, we present our annual Humane Science Award, which recognizes students who are developing non-animal tools or methodologies that advance smarter, human-relevant science. We are honored to be the only animal advocacy group that presents an award at this prestigious event.
In this week’s Science First, we’d like to share more about two of this year’s Humane Science Award recipients, Alexander Anderson (pictured at left, above) and Siyuan Ma (pictured at right) from Breck School in Golden Valley, Minnesota. They received the second-place award for their project in which they 3D-printed a mechanically-accurate model of the aortic valve of the heart.
More than a quarter-million people in the U.S. die annually from medical errors, with some deaths resulting from errors during heart surgeries. Alexander and Siyuan believe that having more realistic heart models that are both mechanically and anatomically accurate may help combat this issue, as surgeons could have a better sense of the organs on which they will operate. While virtual and hard plastic 3D heart models are available, the students feel that the medical field could benefit from a low-cost heart model that accurately reflects the organ’s size and feel.
The students meticulously tailored a silicone molding material’s composition with various additives until it had the mechanical properties of heart tissue and developed a new protocol to 3D print this material. NAVS judges had the opportunity to see and feel the lifelike model and to discuss other potential applications of their approach, including using the method to print 3D models for the replacement of animal specimens in classroom dissections.
According to Alexander, the students will be looking into those additional applications.
“In the future,” he notes, “we hope to broaden our process and our models to other animal organs and human organs for both residency students and high school classrooms and college classrooms alike to practice on cheap and effective realistic organ models and to apply a patient-specific organ model for surgeons to practice on prior to surgery.”
The efforts being made by students like Alexander and Siyuan are the reason NAVS established the Humane Science Award in 2001. Through this award, we not only recognize scientific endeavors that have the potential to reduce or replace animal use in research, but we also provide an important incentive to dozens of young scientists to continue their work without harming animals.
We wish Alexander and Siyuan continued success in their endeavors to construct realistic organ models which have the potential to help humans and animals alike, and we are honored to count them among the next generation of humane scientists and the growing number of NAVS’ Humane Science Award alumni.
Learn more about Alexander and Siyuan’s award-winning project.