Few undergrads have the opportunity that Michael Clark ’12 had last year. Now a senior at Johns Hopkins University, Clark was the team leader on a stem cell injection project that may one day make life a lot easier for people with prosthetic limbs.
Clark’s eight-person team, which he vetted and selected himself, was introduced to Dr. Luis Garza, who does wound healing research at Johns Hopkins. “He was working on developing a new stem cell therapy with the goal of converting the thin skin you might find on your arms or legs to the thick, volar skin typically found on your palms and your feet,” Clark says. “For amputees, this could mean a reduction in the chafing and abrasion caused by wearing a prosthetic device.”
Dr. Garza told Clark’s team he was having problems delivering the stem cell therapy to patients through injections. He challenged Clark and his team to invent a device that would make that feasible. As it was, injecting into the outer layer of skin was challenging because the layer is so shallow.
Not to mention, “when these stem cells are injected through the needle, a lot of them die,” Clark says. “That was the primary concern for us.”
In the end, Clark and his team developed a device that performs intradermal injections with a high degree of control over injection rate and injection volume. They also designed a system that reduces the risk of infection at the injection site, and an automated cell thawing system that reduces cell loss.
In addition to all of this, they developed a business plan for selling, marketing and profiting from the device. They presented the device to researchers at Johns Hopkins and pitched their sales plan at contests, taking first place at Carnegie Mellon University’s McGinnis Venture Competition in 2014.
“I loved working on this,” says Clark, who is majoring in biomedical engineering. “I was thinking what direction I wanted to go in with my biomedical degree. I wanted to explore whether working as part of a start up would interest me, and I figured this would be a good way to test the waters.”
In the end, it was, Clark says. “I ultimately decided to go to medical school, but whatever I end up doing in medicine, I want medical device innovation to be a part of it.”
You applied for this project as a sophomore, when it is typically led by seniors. Why did you push yourself to get involved?
I was always a science guy at Gilmour. I did the Catalyst program there, and it really inspired me to get involved in research once I got here. Research was a big reason why I chose to come here, so I chose to get involved with it as soon as I could.
What do you envision yourself doing down the road?
I want to pursue a career in medicine, but I don’t just want to practice. While at Hopkins I have had a blast getting involved in clinical research and medical device innovation, so I want those aspects of medicine to be a part of my career.
How do you unwind?
Hanging out with friends and exploring Baltimore.
The best things in life are_____.