Imagine if some of humanity’s most common ailments could be managed by improving blood circulation. That’s the hope of Guruprasad Madhavan, a biomedical engineer nominated by IEEE/IEEE-USA and selected as one of the New Faces of Engineering for 2009.
Madhavan, a 2009 Ph.D. graduate of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton, is an aspiring public policy maker. His doctoral research focused on stimulating the calf muscles to pump deoxygenated blood back to the heart, non-invasively and without drugs.
“People don’t realize they have two ‘hearts.’ The one in the chest cavity helps supply oxygenated blood to all parts of the body, and the calf muscles compress the veins and propel blood from the lower body back to the heart,” he explains. “Three-fourths of the blood volume is found below our chest.
“Our hypothesis is that osteoporosis, heart failure, and certain cognitive impairments actually result from low blood pressure and poor perfusion of blood that may be counteracted by toning the calf muscles.” Maintaining a healthy blood flow facilitates better movement of nutrients, oxygen, and disease-fighting white blood cells throughout the body.
Madhavan and his colleagues have developed a device akin to a bathroom scale, approximately 41 centimeters square and 9 kilograms, that stimulates receptors in the soles of the feet that have been found to affect calf-muscle contraction. He is working on making the stimulator smaller, lighter, and affordable.
“We are moving toward using barely perceptible electrical impulses to the foot soles to stimulate blood flow with electrodes that could potentially be used as shoe inserts,” he says.
Madhavan is one of 14 engineers selected for this year’s New Faces of Engineering honors, announced in February. The 14 were chosen by the National Engineers Week Foundation, a coalition of 14 engineering societies including IEEE, as well as major corporations and government agencies. Each society chooses a candidate who is younger than 30, holds an engineering degree, has been employed as an engineer for two to five years, and has worked with projects that significantly affect public welfare or further professional development and growth.
Madhavan’s doctoral research involving calf-muscle stimulation garnered the attention of other organizations. In 2007, he became the first U.S. recipient of the U.K. Institute of Engineering and Technology’s Mike Sargeant Career Achievement Award. In June, Madhavan received the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation’s Becton Dickinson Professional Achievement Award for emerging health care professionals.
He became interested in biomedical engineering while studying instrumentation and control engineering as an undergraduate at the University of Madras in his native India. His interest peaked during his junior year, when he did an internship in the radiology department of Sri Ramachandra University in Chennai.
In 1998, Madhavan joined the university’s IEEE student branch. Later, he received the 2005 IEEE Larry K. Wilson Award for student activities and the 2006 IEEE-USA Divisional Professional Leadership Award. Today he chairs the IEEE Binghamton Section.
“It was my professional duty as an engineer to join IEEE,” he says. “Ninety percent of my leadership skills have come from IEEE. It is a safe place to fail and learn from mistakes.”
Graduating from the University of Madras with a degree in instrumentation and control engineering in 2001, he went on to earn a master’s degree in biomedical engineering in 2002 from SUNY Stony Brook and an MBA in leadership and health care management in 2007 from SUNY Binghamton. Between degrees, he spent 18 months as a research scientist at AFx in Fremont, Calif., working on microwave ablation catheters to treat cardiac rhythm disorders. His work there gave him experience beyond pure engineering, and he expanded into marketing, public relations, and shifting research into a viable business.
“It was there that I began considering moving into a career in public policy,” he says. “I began thinking past the creation of new technologies to how to better communicate them to government officials and the public.”
His big opportunity came last year when he landed a science, technology, and economic policy fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. He begins a regular job there in August as a program officer in policy and global affairs.
Meanwhile, he helped edit Career Development in Bioengineering and Biotechnology (Springer, 2008), a book describing various job and sustainable-development opportunities in those fields.
“My goal,” he says, “is to help brand engineering as a profession that’s more than just nitty-gritty details, but is an integral part of our daily lives. And in that, it plays a vital role in human welfare and social progress.”