Haley Abramson has worked on building a bionic eye. She develops devices for spinal cord injuries. One day, she would like to work on cardiological issues. She likes to build things and wants to help people, so she’s found a niche for herself in creating medical devices.
Abramson, 24, grew up in St. Louis, Mo. She attended undergraduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she studied computer science and biology. After spending a summer in Australia building a bionic eye, she moved to Baltimore to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
She lives in Mt. Vernon. She has participated in events put on by Moishe House Baltimore and The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. She is also involved in Hopkins Hillel, where she is helping put on more events for graduate students.
Why were you trying to build a bionic eye?
Essentially to cure blindness, but less so of a cure and more of a solution. It would connect a pair of glasses to a chip that would be hooked around your optic nerve, and the light that would come into the glasses would tell the nerve exactly how to fire. So it would basically show a pixelated image of what was in front of the person who was wearing them.
What are you working on now in your Ph.D. program?
I am working on developing a device for patients with spinal cord injuries. It’s really a set of devices that interact with each other to make sure that the patient has enough blood flow to their spinal cord without there being too much inflammation, and so since my background is all in software engineering, I’m doing the programming behind the devices, translating the information we get from the sensors into values that clinicians can understand.
What connects your work with the bionic eye to your work with spinal cord injuries?
My main goal is to develop medical devices. … I want to create things and build things, and it’s all some sensor development and mechanical engineering combined with the coding. It’s definitely different skills but overall the same goal of wanting to help people.
How long has biomedical engineering been an interest of yours?
I got really into wanting to make medical devices when I entered college. Freshman year, I developed a device for a hospital in Nicaragua. They were having an issue with women [who] would go get pap smears and then they would have to wait months to find out if they had cervical cancer, which ended up being too late for a lot of them. They needed to wait so long because they had to send their cell samples to be analyzed. I made a device that was a microscope that could hook on to your phone camera, take an image of the cell slide through the microscope and then it was connected to an algorithm that would analyze the image and let you know if you had high likelihood of having cervical cancer.
That was my first dive into biomedical engineering. It all started with an enjoyment for creating things that help other people.
Is there a particular health care problem you would like to try solving one day?
I am very interested in cardiology. Different implantable devices that can help the heart are extremely interesting.
How are you involved in Hopkins Hillel, especially their programming for grad students?
Hopkins Hillel has a lot of programming for the undergrads. They have Shabbat dinners the grad students are welcome to, but it hasn’t seemed as fleshed out as it could. We have some funds that are available now to run events for the grad students.