School of Dentistry and Marriott Library: A Partnership that Has Real Teeth

Assistant Professor Mark Durham, DMD, attends a weekly Makerspace workshop in the library.

One might wonder how the School of Dentistry and the Marriott Library would be partners. Strange bedfellows you say? Not at all.

TJ Ferrill, Assistant Head of Creative Spaces, and Ben Engel, 3D Media Support and Training Specialist, both staff members of the library’s Creativity and Innovation Services Department, have been working with Assistant Professor Mark Durham, DMD, on exploring dental and medical projects involving augmented reality and 3D scanning and printing. They’ve also toyed with using this technology for staff empowerment and visioning.

Team Empowerment:

At the request of Dr. Durham, TJ and Ben brought virtual reality technology such as the HTC Vive, Microsoft Hololens, and the Oculus Rift to the School of Dentistry for top thinkers and leadership to try out. Present at this cross-pollination meeting were the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs for Health Sciences, the Vice-Chair of Medical and Dental Education, the Director for Strategy and Workforce Planning; and many other influencers.

“Because of this resource influence, we are now seriously rethinking technology’s new role in education,” Dr. Durham comments. “This wouldn’t have happened without the vision and leadership of the Marriott Library and without Ben Engel and TJ Ferrill.

TJ Ferrill, Assistant Head of Creative Spaces at the library, tries out the Hololens, one of the many virtual reality technologies offered at the library.

A sample image used to test the cancer detecting program.

Diagnosing Tongue Cancer
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning:

Advances in machine learning enable everyday researchers to apply new methods to existing research and clinical outcomes. Using sample photos of cancerous and healthy specimens, a recurrent neural network (RNN) is trained on a desktop computer. The machine is given training data consisting of labeled images of different medical conditions, from which it learns patterns that are stored in “hidden layers.” These patterns are then applied to new images, which the machine gives a statistical likelihood of being cancerous or healthy.

The setup is an early demonstration of machine learning techniques that are being applied to a broad number of disciplines, including the early detection of tongue cancer.

“The idea is that the sensors could continually track the presence of various salivary molecules, leading to a wealth of data and potentially to early diagnosis of a variety of chronic disease states -which diseases are currently the biggest health care concern facing most nations.”

Ben Engel is a student in the computer science program who works with Dr. Durham and others across campus.

Detecting Future Health Conditions:

TJ and Ben have been working with Dr. Durham using 3D scanning and replication of medical implants to experiment with various configurations of sensors to enable early detection of health problems. Currently Dr. Durham is considering the idea of placing sensors inside the patient’s dentures. The idea is that the sensors could continually track the presence of bacteria, leading to a wealth of data and potentially to early diagnosis of disease such as mouth, tongue, and throat cancer.

The Future

Clinicians come to the library with ideas worth developing, but often without certainty about workflows for 3D scanners, digital designs, and 3D printers. The library is able to serve these needs by having in-house expertise in the areas of design and fabrication, so researchers can focus on implementation and by connecting unlikely collaborators from arts, engineering, business, and medicine.”

Current applications for library services connect students and researchers with the tools they need to fabricate and prototype medical implants, prosthetics, custom orthotics, and more.

TJ muses, “The Library envisions a role in bridging the gap between ideas and prototypes through in-house expertise in 3D scanning, modeling, and printing.”

Greg Hatch, Head of Creativity and Innovation Services says, “One of the elements of TJ’s job description is to stay abreast of technologies that are coming down the line. We are always interested in what is happening in technology, whether it has an obvious application to libraries or not. What we care about is the potential in providing applications that will make a difference for our users.”

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