Despite its importance, research on men’s reproductive health is largely lacking in the biomedical community, due at least in part to the personal nature of these conditions.

To combat this problem, Virginia Tech engineering science and mechanics senior Daniel Surinach is hoping to change the way both researchers and clinicians approach Peyronie’s Disease, a condition in which a soft tissue layer within the penis develops pathologic, fibrous plaques, potentially interfering with sexual function.

During his time at Virginia Tech, Surinach has grown into an essential member of his lab’s team by conducting the preliminary research for this condition under the guidance of associate professor and Kevin P. Granata Faculty Fellow Vincent Wang and Associate Professor Raffaella De Vita, both researchers in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics within the College of Engineering. Collaborator Larry Levine, a urologist at Rush University Medical Center, provided the team with surgical biopsies for their research.

“Since there’s no published data on this type of tissue or on this kind of project, I kind of had to start from scratch and work my way up,” said Surinach, who is a native of Fairfax, Virginia.

Clinicians commonly treat Peyronie’s Disease and calcification within the penis by prescribing traction therapy, following the premise that stretching the soft tissue promotes elimination of the plaques. However, before Surinach’s research, no mechanical measurements existed that could determine the effectiveness of this procedure.

Through his work, Surinach has quantified the biaxial tensile properties of diseased plaque tissue, which could lead to the development of new standards that guide clinical practice, whether mechanical or surgical.

“His particular contributions were welcomed because he’s helping us establish a new research direction, which frankly is one that very few in the nation are pursuing,” said Wang. “It’s a critical area.”

Surinach’s efforts have also drawn the attention and funding of Coloplast, an international company that manufactures medical devices, such as grafts, for use in urology and other similar specialties. Coloplast’s funding supports Surinach’s comparison of the mechanical characteristics of diseased soft tissue with a pericardial graft taken from the heart.

Surinach presented his research findings last October at the 2017 Biomedical Engineering Society annual conference in Phoenix. Wang said he hopes the research is moving toward publication, for which Surinach will be considered the lead author, an accomplishment that’s rare for an undergraduate student.

Due to his key research contributions and academic record, Surinach was selected as the 2018 Engineering Science and Mechanics Outstanding Senior. He will receive special recognition for his achievements at the Virginia Tech College of Engineering commencement ceremony this May.

“The project is very challenging, but I’ve never really heard him say that he’s frustrated about something or that it’s a problem that’s insurmountable,” said Wang. “He typically doesn’t come to me until after he’s given a very thorough evaluation and consideration. In other words, he’s very problem-solving oriented. He’s quite deserving of the outstanding student award.”

When not in the lab, Surinach tries to stay active and healthy. Until he was injured last year, he spent his time training for competitive weightlifting. He has also volunteered for Virginia Tech Helping PAWS, an organization that allows students and their pets to visit popular areas both on campus and in the Blacksburg community to provide animal therapy.

To kick off his next chapter, Surinach has committed to the mechanical engineering graduate program at the University of Minnesota. He said his dream is designing robots that help assist physicians during surgery.

“In the near future, I want to work more on the surgical robotics field, which kind of plays a portion here. You have to know and understand the properties of the tissue that you’re operating on so the robot can actually do its job,” said Surinach.

As his final days at Virginia Tech wind down, Surinach said the most important thing he has to say is thank you. 

“I definitely would not have been provided the opportunities that I was provided with here unless my professors were very friendly and very easy to work with.” 

Written by Cassie Keene and Emily Roediger