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Mastering microbes: RIT/NTID student combines engineering, bioscience to decrease infections from medical devices

10 May

Male professor with glasses and mustache next to male student with short dark hair in black golf shirt.

Samuel Lum found several things in common with his faculty mentor, Robert Osgood, including excitement about research and a project that could save lives.

Osgood, an associate professor of biomedical sciences, and Lum have been working to decrease the incidence of hospital-associated catheter infections after each lost a family member to a preventable infection not long ago.

Lum’s background in mechanical engineering technology and Osgood’s microbiology expertise in studying biofilms provide the kind of multidisciplinary approach that could lead to identifying the genes most likely responsible for catheter infections. Knowing this could improve how future engineers like Lum produce better materials for devices. Their working relationship set Lum on his career path.

“Vascular and urinary catheters are the two most common types of catheters that are focal points in terms of healthcare infections,” said Lum, who is from New York, N.Y., and who will graduate this May from RIT’s College of Engineering Technology. “Engineers have tried to design antimicrobial catheters, but in reality, they are not working as well as they should be, regardless of funding dollars. What we have is a lack of understanding of the biology behind this, the pathogens themselves. We are asking how do we disrupt the infection process? We know something more about these challenges because of the interdisciplinary work we have done together.”

Lum has been very active in different research projects while at RIT, participating on teams consisting of engineering technology, chemistry and biomedical and chemical engineering students and faculty. Work on projects, such as the one with Osgood, could shift the way people think about processes in the healthcare industry, a career area he is intent on entering after graduation.

“This work is a combination of medicine, science and engineering. Many genes have been studied extensively in the past decade. I think this could be a major contribution to understanding how bacteria attach to other surfaces in general, and there are implications all over the place,” explained Lum.

“In microbiology, controlling contamination is everything,” said Osgood, who also serves as director of the biomedical sciences program in RIT’s College of Health Sciences and Technology. “Having someone like Sam who has a high level of critical thinking, enthusiasm and is not afraid to be wrong about something is refreshing. Enjoying science means learning from the mistakes. If you come to see mistakes as opportunities to learn, whatever you are seeking to accomplish, will eventually happen.”

“Professor Osgood is one of the best mentors I’ve ever had, and has basically transformed my career,” said Lum. “I have taken bold risks, and part of our discussions together enabled me to think that I could change the world. I’ve always wanted to do something like that, and we have had some of the boldest thoughts imaginable.”

 

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