Mines Mechanical Engineering Alumnus Conducts Research on Dental-Related Infections

Joree Sandin, 2018 South Dakota Mines mechanical engineering graduate, participated in research in the area of antibiotic resistant infections as a master’s student at the University of Kentucky.

As a mechanical engineering graduate from South Dakota Mines, Joree Sandin never expected to do medical research, but the 2018 graduate has spent the past two years focused on antibiotic resistant infections. 

“Three or four years ago, as a mechanical engineering major at Mines, I would never have imagined that I would have gained this experience … my car took a random exit toward this bio world and I’m so glad it did,” she says. 

Sandin recently completed her master’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Kentucky College of Engineering. She returned to Mines in October to co-present the research seminar, “A Mechanical Engineer’s Approach to Bacterial Infections,” alongside Dr. Martha E. Grady, assistant professor in mechanical engineering at UK and lead researcher on the work. 

The UK research Sandin has been a part of focuses on biofilm formations, specifically in dental care.  

Biofilms are a collection of microorganisms that grow on surfaces. The microorganisms that make up biofilms can include bacteria, protists and fungi. “Biofilms are really everywhere,” Sandin says. “You can find a biofilm on your shower curtain right now.” 

Unfortunately, biofilm bacteria have a much greater resistance to antibiotics, and the strain of biofilm bacteria is the main cause of cavities and oral infections in humans, Sandin says. 

Biofilms are particularly an issue for people with dental implants - metal posts that are screwed into the jawbone. Artificial teeth are then attached to the posts to replace missing or damaged teeth. Sandin says biofilm formations can interfere with the “integration of the screw into the jaw bone,” often requiring additional treatment, including surgery. 

Biofilm formations account for 17 million infections and 550,000 deaths in the United States each year. They are especially prevalent in implantology, accounting for nearly 500,000 cases each year.  

The challenge is to control the infections that come from biofilm formations either by developing a therapeutic treatment once the infection occurs or by developing surfaces that prevent the biofilms from forming, Sandin says. To do that, scientists must understand their properties, including how thick the bacteria is and how adhesive they are to surfaces. 

“The main goal is to understand these properties so that we can develop new devices that would be less receptive to the biofilms,” she says. Another option is the development of a coating for devices like dental implants that would prevent attachment. 

One of the greatest challenges in studying these characteristics is the size of the bacteria - just one micron in length. By comparison, the thickness of a human hair is between 50 and 100 microns.

To adequately study the properties of bacteria, the research team has developed a technique – Conpokal - using nearly simultaneous laser scanning confocal and atomic force microscopy on live cells. An atomic force microscope will allow a scientist to observe live cells and collect mechanical properties. A laser scanning microscope uses fluorescence optics. Rather than “illuminating the whole sample at once, laser light is focused onto a defined spot at a specific depth within the sample,” according to the company ibidi. 

“This allows us to look at cells and bacteria in live form,” Sandin says. “There are less than 10 of these instruments in the world.” 

With her graduate degree complete, Sandin has future plans to get her Ph.D. First, however, she hopes to work for a few years in a field that combines mechanical engineering and biology.


"Understanding how a mechanical engineer approaches the biology realm, such as in my bacteria research, has shown me how ME and bio are truly connected. I’m interested to see and learn how ME expands to other tissues, perhaps bones or organs, with prosthetics and medical implants,” Sandin says. “I'd love to work in an area where I can help others - preventing infections, restoring movement, improving health - and biomechanics is the perfect route for combining my passion for ME and helping others. I’m thankful for the paths that have led me to South Dakota Mines and University of Kentucky for the opportunities that have guided my solid foundation for my future career."


Last edited 12/3/2020 8:32:39 PM

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