On Earth Day of 2020, the University of Minnesota Medical School awarded two $50,000 grants with the purpose of finding ways to reduce medical system material waste. Graduate and professional students in the Medical School and the College of Science and Engineering were challenged to create a solution that aimed to reduce healthcare’s impact on the environment. The two selected groups have been working hard as their projects reach their one-year milestones.

One group’s project, “Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Cardiovascular Disease by Diagnosing Subclinical Pathology Using Artificial Intelligence,” has been led by Anthony Prisco, MD, PhD, a cardiology fellow from the Physician Scientist Training Program at the U of M Medical School. Dr. Prisco teamed up with two computational biology doctoral students, Alex Deakyne and Weston Upchurch.

“I applied for this grant as I saw it as an opportunity to combine two interests of mine – improving the world we live in by reducing carbon emissions while also reducing the burden cardiovascular disease has on human health,” Dr. Prisco said.

Dr. Prisco shared that his team is a perfect combination of strengths. He was able to use his knowledge of computational fluid dynamics, and his teammates provided him support in designing custom artificial intelligence algorithms to non-invasively predict the onset of cardiovascular disease.

“The fundamental goal of this project is to provide a new diagnostic tool that will estimate a patient's risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Prisco said. “By using this technology, we hope to identify those as medium/high risk and initiate early treatment, disrupting and delaying the natural progression of cardiovascular disease. This will ultimately reduce the number of patients who require an invasive procedure and will, in turn, reduce the carbon footprint associated with cardiovascular disease.”

Dr. Prisco and his team have requested a no-cost extension to continue their work for the next academic year. “Our preliminary results were accepted for presentation at the American College of Cardiology conference this summer, and we also have entered the 2021 Big Ten Augmented Intelligence Bowl,” he said.

The other group’s project, “Characterization and Prototyping of a Novel Biodegradable Intravenous Bag,” has been led by Ranveer Vasdev, a third-year medical student at the Medical School. He’s been working with Tyler Gathman, Aaron Rosenblum, Alora Sager, Jamee Schoephoerster, Conor Nath, Amrit Vasdev, Stephanie Liftland and Derek C. Batiste.

“I saw the grant as a unique opportunity to address a global environmental problem with roots in healthcare using an engineering approach,” Vasdev said. “What spoke to me was the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the grant. There is so much that we as healthcare professionals can learn from other disciplines.”

Vasdev shared that he was shocked when learning about the amount of single-use plastic that is wasted in routine surgical care every day. This is what inspired him to lead his team to find a comparable solution that reflected their goal of creating more sustainability in the field of medicine.

“With much help from Dr. Marc Hillmyer's team, we have identified candidate degradable polymers and are currently assessing their mechanical properties compared to standard-use IV bags,” Vasdev said. “Additionally, our team published an op-ed at the start of the pandemic about considerations regarding environmental stewardship in healthcare during the COVID-19 outbreak. We have also conducted a retrospective review estimating the quality and quantity of hospital waste produced during the pandemic compared to historical controls. Our findings are currently being prepared for journal submission.”

Vasdev hopes that their discoveries and methods can also be applied to other commonly used single-use medical products such as drapes, gowns and gloves.

Amidst a tumultuous year, these two groups have continued to reflect the call to research and innovative excellence towards climate change at the U of M Medical School. Vasdev and Dr. Prisco have led their teams to create lasting impacts on our planet.