Developing the Future through Research
Binghamton University Bioengineering professor Kenneth McLeod wants his students to understand one main point: “We’re an engineering program here,” he says. “What engineers do is develop the future. They create the products and systems used in the future.”
Through his research on the body’s complex muscle systems, McLeod himself is affecting the future – looking for ways to prevent many of the chronic diseases connected with aging such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, osteoporosis and deep-vein thrombosis.
To understand much of his recent work, one must realize that the body actually contains two hearts. Of course the primary heart in the chest is responsible for pumping blood out to the body, but the lesser-known, second heart — the soleus muscle located in the back part of the leg’s calf — is what pumps the blood back.
“And just like your heart can fail, these muscles in your leg can fail,” McLeod says. “And when they fail, there’s all kinds of complications, one of which is your blood pressure drops.” This creates chronic low blood pressure, called hypotension, which is linked to many of those common chronic diseases associated with aging.
To combat these diseases, he has developed technologies that can activate the second heart, “just like you put a pace maker into a person to prevent them from having a heart attack,” McLeod says. “In the same way, we can pace the second heart.”
Touching upon the core idea that engineers develop the future, McLeod emphasizes the enterprising nature of these studies.
“It’s not simply studying the second heart, but how do we develop technology to improve the performance of the second heart?” McLeod questions. “We’ve done that and received patents on those technologies, and now there are start-up companies that have licensed that technology and are trying to commercialize it.”
This scenario McLeod paints of “study, develop solution, commercialize” is exemplary of the entrepreneurial spirit that he instills in his students as he gives them the tools an entrepreneur needs to make it in the business world.
“Teaching students basic research doesn’t necessarily teach them how to become engineers,” he said. “It teaches them how to be scientists. One of the things we try to do here in Bioengineering is to show students how to take the developments in the laboratory out into the real world.” Because even though the future may be developed in the lab, it’s the real world where people use your product every day. That is the true test of success.