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Release: Oct. 2, 2002

UI professors, graduate student win technology innovation award

Three University of Iowa professors and a graduate student have been awarded the 2002 UI President’s Award for Technology Innovation for their work on the Dynamic Simulator for Clinical Breast Examination Training. The award recognizes the most creative use of technology in teaching in the past year and carries a $3,000 cash prize.

The award-winning team includes Gregory J. Gerling, a graduate student in mechanical and industrial engineering and Columbus Junction native; Alicia Weissman, assistant professor of family medicine; Geb Thomas, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering; and Edwin Dove, professor of biomedical engineering.

Gerling Weissman Thomas Dove

“This year’s award not only celebrates excellence in technological innovation. It also demonstrates the benefits of interdisciplinary cooperation,” said Willard “Sandy” Boyd, interim UI president. “Talented people in engineering and the health sciences have teamed up to invent something that greatly advances our fight against cancer. Early tumor detection is one of the most critical factors in treating cancer, and this device revolutionizes the way medical students are trained to perform breast examinations for that purpose.”

The simulator enhances training of medical students learning to perform breast examinations, which is a clinical skill crucial for early detection of breast cancer. This type of exam can detect cancerous tumors missed by mammography, but many doctors say students lack adequate training in this area.

The team’s dynamic variable-tumor silicone breast model simulates tumors in different locations and of varying hardness and sizes. Characteristics of the 15 tumors can be adjusted independently so that students can feel the tactile differences that are critical for determining the presence or absence of tumors. Previous breast models had tumors in fixed locations, which diminished their value as teaching tools since students could memorize the tumors’ locations.

In fall 2001, the team conducted a study comparing the effects of the dynamic simulator with the older models. They found that the dynamic simulator training increased the number of tumors found, reduced the number of false positives, and improved students’ ability to transfer their skills to other models and real patients.