Student Profile: Joshua Butler

ECU undergraduate researcher Joshua Butler is developing new ways to use 3D printing technology to help medical patients.

Major: Engineering

Mentor: Dr. Barbara Muller-Borer

Department: Department of Engineering

Project Title: “3D Printing Patient-Specific Images for Preoperative Planning”

Joshua’s research plans to leverage 3D printing technology to create patient-specific models for use in diagnostics and preoperative planning.

How did you get involved in undergraduate research?

I first got involved in research by talking to my professor about her research projects. After getting involved in this way, I began transitioning to my current research after she introduced me to a medical student who was also interested in medical 3D printing. This introduction, coupled with previous internships at the East Carolina Heart Institute and Innovation Design Lab, enabled me to fully pursue medical 3D printing.

Why did you choose your research topic?

I chose this topic because as an engineering student and aspiring physician, I am interested in ways that we can use advancing technology to improve patient outcomes and patient experiences. One of the ways we can do this is to improve diagnostics by supplementing CT scans and virtual 3D models with physical, 3D printed models. This also improves patient education, allowing the physician to show the patient his/her specific anatomy at scale. Lastly, better understanding the depth and scale of this anatomy of interest will allow surgeons to operate more effectively and efficiently, reducing the time in the operating room and cost to the patient.

What’s been your favorite part of conducting undergraduate research?

My favorite part of conducting undergraduate research is being able to create a life-like model of a patient’s anatomy from a two-dimensional CT scan.

What challenges have you faced while conducting undergraduate research?

The biggest challenge so far has been teaching myself how to continuously improve in model creation despite software and hardware limitations. I have largely been able to do this by researching different techniques and putting them into practice.

Why is your research important for the general public?

If you ever need surgery, wouldn’t you want to see a 3D model of what it really looks like? Not to mention the peace of mind that your surgeon knows exactly what it looks like before you even enter the operating room.

What’s your ultimate goal or accomplishment that you hope your research will help you achieve?

I hope to advance the practice of medicine to the point that previous methods seem archaic.

Do you have any advice for other students interested in conducting undergraduate research?

First, know your interests. Once you have found your passions, look for a faculty member that is an expert in the area or willing to mentor you through the process.