Stephen's research interests include anything under the broad topic of biomechanics. Currently, he is mainly interested in studying the mechanics involved in the progression of glaucoma. Specifically, he is interested in how tissue architectures, material properties, and mechanically-driven remodeling affect risk of glaucomatous damage, and whether or not these factors can be manipulated to treat or prevent glaucoma.
Stephen received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame in May 2013. He worked as an Undergraduate Research Assistant under Dr. Glen Niebur in the Tissue Mechanics Laboratory at Notre Dame during the school years from Fall 2011 to Spring 2013. He also worked as a Mechanical Engineering Intern at Sandia National Labs during the summer of 2012, and as an R&D Mechanical Engineering intern at Stryker Instruments in Kalamazoo, MI during the summer of 2013. He joined the BioE program and the Ethier Lab in the Fall of 2013.
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness, and is characterized by the death of retinal ganglion cells (RGC) which carry vision information to the brain. A key risk factor in glaucoma is the elevation of intraocular pressure (IOP), and the only effective therapies to date are aimed at lowering IOP. Therefore, mechanics play a large role in the progression of the disease. The rat is widely used animal model for glaucoma, but the tissue architecture of the rat optic nerve head (ONH), the region in the back of the eye where RGC axons exit the globe, is substantially different than that of the human. Furthermore, the biomechanics of the rat ONH are not characterized, but in order to translate findings from the rat model of glaucoma to humans, we must understand how the biomechanics of the rat ONH differ from that of the human. I plan to model the biomechanics of the rat ONH using the finite element method in order to understand how the elevation of intraocular pressure affects local stress and strain levels. This will serve to strengthen the rat model of glaucoma by increasing the current knowledge base about it. It may also allow us to learn more about specific processes occurring between the events of elevated IOP and RGC death by correlating regions of early RGC death in rat glaucoma models with regions of high stress and strain predicted by the finite element model.