Introduction to my PhD topic

I have mentioned in previous blogs that I have been writing my first paper. I am glad to finally announce that I have finished writing and my paper has been submitted to the journal ‘3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing’. We are not expecting to hear back from them for a while. It has been 2 weeks since the paper was submitted and we have not heard anything back which means it probably has not been rejected (most papers get rejected in the first 10 days if they are going to get rejected).

Now that this paper is finished, I can really focus on my PhD topic. The paper was not entirely separate from my funded research, as I was still getting to know the 3D printer, as well as the 3D printing material. It was sort of like a training exercise. I have also now got a taste of what it is like to be involved in writing a journal article. This paper took much longer than I thought it would, but it was my first and I now understand how to better approach writing for next time. I will write a blog post on this paper when it gets published and go into greater detail of the paper content and my main findings.

As part of my PhD, I will be developing a 3D printable antimicrobial material in order to create devices to alleviate some complications associated with PEG feeding tubes for children with Cystic Fibrosis. There are multiple parts to this project, including Cystic Fibrosis, 3D printing, PEG feeding tube complications, material science and microbiology. All of these components are completely different to one another.

In college I studied physics and material science, so the materials portion is the part that I am most prepared for. I have spent a year and a half working with the 3D printer that will be used for my PhD project. I am now confident 3D printing and hacking the 3D printer, although by no means an expert. I have attended 3D printing conferences, and have been reading literature on how 3D printers are currently being used in hospitals. The areas that I feel that I need to brush up on most are Cystic Fibrosis, PEG tubes and microbiology. I am currently taking a microbiology module which will hopefully give me an insight to design an experiment to test antimicrobial properties of the material that will be developed. I have been reading about Cystic Fibrosis and PEG tubes, and chose this topic for an assignment as part of my summer school modules, since I knew it was the area that I was least knowledgeable in.

This week I spoke to my microbiology lecturer about my project and he gave me a list of people around the University that would be good to talk to in relation to testing the material against particular microbes. It looks like I will be able to use some lab space on campus to test antimicrobial properties of the material. This will speed up the testing of the material, as doing these tests off campus could take up a lot more time. When I complete this module I should have the skills required to work independently and grow bacteria myself for testing.

Next week I am meeting a doctor in the local hospital, along with my supervisors. The aim of this meeting is to hopefully allow me to spend a week or more in the Cystic Fibrosis unit to get to know the local CF team and eventually spend time studying what the real-life PEG tube complications are. This will give me a better insight into the issues associated with PEG tubes in order to design devices to alleviate these issues. It is already known that scar tissue and infection at the site where the tube enters the body are issues, but maybe there are other problems that do not appear in the literature. This should form the basis for the devices I design to alleviate some of the PEG tube related problems.

As it stands, everything is running smoothly and the project seems to be coming together nicely. However, this is research and just because everything is going well now does not mean that I won’t encounter a road block in a month’s time.

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