ARIT 2017 Poster Session Feature: Tibor Wladimir
Going beyond pure text, bridges will feature Austrian scientists from a new perspective in 2018, taking creative cues to communicate their science in a different light, tone, and color.
Discover the work of Tibor Wladimir, our sixth scientist featured in the ARIT 2017 Poster Session Showcase.
What do I want to achieve with my research?
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"How does my research make others feel?"
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Your Science in Action: Sensations of the Heart
Tibor Wladimir’s journey to biomedical technology was a varied one – with stints in hospital dietetics, doing investigative research as an economic journalist and, for more than two years, running museum operations and scientific workshops for children in Vienna’s Science Center Network. A common factor in all these activities was his interest in seeing problems, asking questions, and seeking solutions. So perhaps it was no surprise that he became intrigued by bioengineering, with a focus on medical biotechnology. Wladimir has studied biotechnology, focusing on biosensor technologies, both in Vienna and, for the past 6 months, as a visiting scholar at the University of California, San Francisco. “Working together with highly motivated and experienced scientists at both Ertl Lab at TU Vienna and Wieselthaler Lab at UCSF has been a great experience!” he says.
The most widespread cause of hospitalization and mortality, in developed as well as developing countries, is heart failure, often caused or exacerbated by lifestyle factors such as stress, obesity, and smoking. Since the early 1990s, around 4,000 patients per year, worldwide, have opted for a heart transplant when other possibilities were exhausted. Yet the risks are numerous and well known. “Organ rejection is a constant threat for transplant patients,” confirms Wladimir. The standard way to monitor a heart transplant is by biopsy of the heart muscle to reveal the condition of the tissue. The biopsy is relatively safe (complication rate typically below 6%), but may increase risks of rejection, infection, arrhythmia, long-term complications, and stress for the patient, to say nothing of demands on hospital space, medical personnel, and associated expenses. There should be a better way to monitor a transplant – but how? “A fully implantable device for continuous, long-term monitoring of tissue changes in cardiac allografts,” says Wladimir, “would be a long-desired improvement in transplantation medicine.”
Biosensors are already used for sensitive diagnostics in many fields, detecting biomolecular changes and interactions in cells and tissues under surveillance. Adapting this technology to monitor transplants required a way to detect tissue changes as early as possible in the rejection process and transmit the findings using wireless data transfer. Wladimir’s study focused on:
a) establishing that early stages of rejection involve physiological changes reflected in the electrical characteristics of the tissue; and
b) developing a prototype biosensor that could be implanted, monitor changes in tissue impedance, and be used in ongoing research.
The biosensor had to be flexible enough to function on the curved surface of a contractile organ like the heart, so one challenge was to produce a bendable circuit on a flexible but biocompatible substrate.
The project eventually evaluated a titanium-dioxide-coated biosensor that could be implanted during cardiac transplant and continuously monitor transplant rejection. Changes in the magnitude of impedance at characteristic frequencies could be established as a method for classifying tissue rejection into grades, much like the well-established histological grading. In the simulation of tissue rejection, the biosensor detected strikingly different changes in impedance of healthy vs. rejected tissue, with healthy tissue showing significantly higher impedance. This difference reflects the morphological changes that cells experience during rejection.
Although Wladimir’s simulations implanted the titanium-dioxide-coated biosensor in the tissue of a chicken heart immersed in a saline bath, the results validated the possibility that such an implanted biosensor really could differentiate between healthy and damaged tissue, and detect early signs of rejection in the expected range. The next step is to apply this technology to monitor tissue rejection in a living pig. Looking ahead, Wladimir says: “I am very much looking forward to seeing the first results of the in vivo experiments!”
My favorite scientist:
I admire every single person spending time in research and trying to solve some scientific mysteries! If I have to name one historical person, I would choose the Hungarian biochemist Albert Szent-Györgyi.
If you read one science website/ blog/ book, it should be:
I enjoy reading Reddit’s science feed. It is a volunteer-organized platform with a large and very active community (both scientific and non-scientific users). We need more platforms like this!
Without science, I would be:
A confused young man with no answers to my questions.
My Eureka moment was when:
When I was working on my project at UCSF, I was kindly invited to attend a so-called surgical innovations meeting (https://surgicalinnovations.ucsf.edu). I was truly amazed by a highly interdisciplinary and multi-cultural group of experts and a creative research environment. Scientists, engineers, surgeons, medical staff working together in order to fill some scientific gaps with a common goal: improving health.
ABOUT THE SERIES
The ARIT 2017 Poster Session Showcase will highlight select Austrian scientists of the Research and Innovation Network Austria. These scientists all participated in the coveted ARIT 2017 Poster Session, after having been selected by an expert jury from the ASCINA network and the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation.