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Award Won to Study Pelvic Floor Disorders

In 2010, roughly one-third or 28 million American women suffered from pelvic floor disorder, including urinary and/or fecal incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse, or the literal collapse of the uterus into and inside the walls of the vagina.


Raffaella De Vita

The direct costs for pelvic organ prolapse alone costs a staggering $1 billion, not counting costs associated with lost productivity or decreased quality of life. Women who suffer the disorder experience great pain and discomfort and bladder infections. Not much is known about pelvic floor disorder or prolapse because it is not talked about as openly as, say, breast cancer, in the general population.

Raffaella De Vita, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Science Mechanics at Virginia Tech, is now leading a national study on the disorder, including seeking out new treatments and providing new ways to prevent prolapse. “These are issues that many women have, we as engineers should not feel embarrassed to talk about them,” she said.

Director of Virginia Tech’s Mechanics of Soft Biological Systems Laboratory, Prof. De Vita is using a five-year $473,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award to lead this research. Her collaborative research partners include Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Washington, D.C., and the Biophysics Collaborative Access Team at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago.

In addition to the medical research efforts for new treatments and preventative measurements, Prof. De Vita will use her CAREER award to develop a new graduate course on nonlinear mechanics of biological systems and revise a similar undergraduate course she teaches to include laboratory hours in experimental biomechanics. She also will spearhead community outreach education efforts, including women’s groups, on pelvic floor disorder and prolapse.

The CAREER grant is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award, given to creative junior faculty considered to become academic leaders of the future.

She earned a laurea degree in Mathematics from University of Naples II in 2000, and masters and doctoral degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003 and 2005, respectively.

This story can be found on the Virginia Tech News websiteexternal link.

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