Volgenau School of Engineering
George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Bioengineering master’s student uses technology to help improve surgical options for patients

June 17, 2020   /   by Nanci Hellmich

David Thompson, a master's student in bioengineering, is interning at Inova. He's helping develop a virtual reality tool that uses data about various aspects of the patient’s health to predict how the patient would react to different surgical options.

David Thompson’s inspiration to pursue a career in bioengineering dates back to his childhood.

“My grandfather on my father’s side lost his leg at a factory and that lead to the deterioration of his health. I wondered if we had easier access to higher forms of technology, would he have lived longer,” he says.

Research in bioengineering, which leads to the development of new life-changing medical devices and technology, seemed like the best way to make a difference in the lives of people like his grandfather. So Thompson decided to pursue a master’s degree in bioengineering. He’ll finish it at the end of the summer, one of the first students to receive the new degree from the Department of Bioengineering.

The program offers three options­­­­ for completing the degree—a thesis, extra coursework, or a practicum. Thompson chose the practicum, and he’s currently working as an intern at Inova’s Biomechanics Research Laboratory, under the direction of Jihui Li.

Thompson is helping develop a virtual reality tool that uses data about various aspects of the patient’s health, gathered from MRIs and other tests, to predict how the patient would react to different surgical options, he says.  

“This kind of technology is the wave of the future. It’s more for planning than training. It will allow surgeons to visualize and execute the things they want to do.”

The VR tool is still in the early stages of development and the coronavirus pandemic slowed down the work, but Thompson says they’re making progress.

“Students graduating from our MS program are ready to jump right into industry having had this practical experience,” says assistant professor Shani Ross, associate chair and master’s program director for bioengineering. “I know David’s dedication and persistence will pay off as he gets ready to finish up here and move on to the next phase of his career.”

Thompson is not sure what his next step in bioengineering will be, but he’s especially interested in neuroprosthetics and regenerative medicine.

But in the meantime, he loves what he is doing now at Inova. “The program has helped improve my computer science and critical-thinking skills. I’m excited to see where my career goes from here.”