W&J student files research patent applications, accepts National Institutes of Health position

Created: May 7, 2019
Last Updated: July 17, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (May 8, 2019)—Not many undergraduate students can say they’ve filed three patents for inventions, worked in labs in France, China, and Australia, and have lined up a position with a national research institution before graduation, but Blynn Shideler isn’t most students.

The Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) physics and French major is wrapping up his 3-2 dual enrollment degrees at Columbia University, where he majored in biomedical engineering. He’s signed a 12-month contract to work for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Rehabilitation Medicine Department Cerebral Palsy Clinic in Bethesda, Md., while applying to medical school programs.

“It’s cool at this point in my life to look back on the past five years,” Blynn said. “When I started at W&J five years ago, this was my goal. I’m very grateful for the education that I received at both institutions.”

Blynn began his incredible journey the summer following his freshmen year. With funding from W&J’s Magellan Project, he traveled to the University of Paris Descartes Medical School to research rehabilitation technology for children with neuromuscular disorders. Through connections he made at the lab in Paris, Blynn was accepted to work in another lab on prosthetic engineering, this time in China and again with funding from the Magellan project.

After finishing his third year at W&J, Blynn was accepted into a research position in Melbourne, Australia, at Victoria University. While there, the lab started a project with Royal Victoria Hospital to enhance physical therapy for recovering stroke patients using a predictive biofeedback tool. The tool took information from the patients’ walking pattern on a treadmill and used a screen to show walking targets for patient interaction. Research has shown that integrating this type of technology in therapy has expedited recovery for patients. The lab filed and published a U.S. patent application for the technology that is currently pending approval, and Blynn is listed as lead inventor for his heavy involvement in the project.

When Blynn returned from Australia, he began his first year at Columbia and brought his research with him to work in the Columbia Robotics and Rehabilitation Laboratory (ROAR Lab).

“When I first brought this to Columbia, they were very interested in it. They thought we could make it even more beneficial for certain patients if we rebuilt it as virtual reality,” Blynn said. “I spent the past two years at Columbia building this rehabilitation environment in virtual reality, and in the past few months, I’ve been able to test it with patients in Columbia’s hospital system.”

Blynn wrote and submitted a research manuscript on his work with the project to the academic journal Gait and Posture. The project caught the interest of NIH, and part of his work there will include building out the virtual reality rehab he developed at Columbia to study on a larger group.

In addition to researching this technology for lower body rehabilitation, Blynn also has been part of a research group working to develop a motion tracking bracelet that aids upper limb therapy for kids with cerebral palsy for his senior thesis. The research his team has done could be incorporated into smart watch technology, and the team has been in touch with Fitbit to discuss product integration with the brand. The team is currently in the process of filing another patent application for this device.

It’s been an exciting time for Blynn as he prepares to walk in graduation ceremonies at both colleges. He’s ready to take on the next step, but fondly remembers the first steps at W&J that helped bring him to where he is today.

“I love reflecting on my college experience. I’ve told my story on why I chose to go to W&J many times, including when I gave a speech at the Washington Fellows overnight to prospective students,” he said. “I learned about the Magellan Project as a high school student during that same overnight. I felt that W&J was a place I could really excel, and saw the Magellan and how it’s representative of how W&J really invests in students to give them every opportunity to have a special educational experience. Five years later, I look back and see how true that has been for me.”

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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