Alissa Dangel, MD, is hoping to change the way pre-term breech babies are delivered. After working for nearly a decade as an attending physician in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tufts Medical Center, she is now pursuing her interest in research as a TL1 Clinical Research Fellow in Tufts CTSI’s Clinical and Translational Science Graduate Program. This program led her to an exciting collaboration with MIT to create a preliminary prototype for a new obstetrics device.
Dr. Dangel spent the past four years working as an Ob/Gyn Hospitalist exclusively at night with most of her focus spent on early-morning deliveries, sometimes under emergency circumstances. This fed her desire to conduct obstetrics research.
“Everything seems so much clearer at 2:00AM,” she says. “When you have to perform an emergency C-section for a breech, premature baby at 2:00AM, it makes you want to find a better way.”
Dr. Dangel’s thesis is centered on high-risk babies who are born in the breech position (feet first). The current convention is to deliver breech babies via C-section rather than a vaginal delivery, but vaginal delivery is preferable because it poses fewer surgical risks and requires a shorter recovery period. Dr. Dangel’s prototype focuses on a specific problem related to preterm breech delivery: head entrapment. She hopes her device will mitigate this risk and allow some women to deliver breech babies vaginally.
To design her prototype, Dr. Dangel collaborated with a medical device design class at MIT. Her father, an MIT alumnus, read about the class in a newsletter. At his suggestion, Dr. Dangel submitted her proposal and the class accepted it. Together with a group of undergraduate and graduate students they designed a device to solve the problem. Feedback shared between Dr. Dangel and the design class resulted in the current prototype.
Throughout the process, Dr. Dangel received assistance from mentors at Tufts and MIT.
Michael House, MD, is a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine at Tufts Medical Center and an Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tufts University School of Medicine. His past work with MIT researchers on the mechanical properties of the cervix helped to pave the way for Dr. Dangel’s prototype project. He also serves on Dr. Dangel’s thesis committee.
MIT’s Kumaran Kolandaivelu, MD, PhD is Associate Director of Tufts CTSI’s T.5 Capacity in Medical Devices Program, which addresses the challenge of bridging the gap between preclinical development to human studies. Dr. Kolandaivelu helped Dr. Dangel to formulate aspects of her thesis and is working with her to determine who will use the device, how they will use it, how it will be tested, and where the funding will come from. These are all necessary components to keep Dr. Dangel’s research moving forward.
Dr. Dangel is committed to improving obstetrics care. “For me, it’s been very eye-opening to see how little innovation goes into obstetrics,” she says. “When you order a lab test on a pregnant woman, the reference ranges on the computer are still typically for a male. Sometimes the computer will label the test as “normal” even though I know it’s not. These issues get left untouched because people don’t have the clinical exposure or don’t understand why this population is different. As someone who did clinical medicine for several years, I think I could push the agenda to focus more collaborative research efforts towards obstetrics.”