Biomedical Engineering Students Earn National Recognition for Bioethics Work

Biomedical engineering seniors Jordan Maass and Tasha Repella are pictured with department head Raj Rao after the pair earned third place in the bioethics essay competition at the Institute of Biological Engineering conference.
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Biomedical engineering seniors Jordan Maass and Tasha Repella are pictured with department head Raj Rao after the pair earned third place in the bioethics essay competition at the Institute of Biological Engineering conference.

Two University of Arkansas students placed third in a national bioethics essay competition held by the Institute of Biological Engineering in April. The team's essay focused on ethical issues surrounding artificial intelligence in healthcare.

Tasha Repella and Jordan Maass are seniors in biomedical engineering and have had undergraduate research experiences at U of A and study abroad experiences in Australia.  The two partnered in Clinical Assistant Professor Hanna Jensen's Clinical Needs course in the spring to analyze artificial intelligence in healthcare. Under guidance from Jensen and Casey Lee Kayser, assistant professor of English in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, they expanded on the assignment to an abstract and eventual essay submission to the contest, and the two were selected as finalists among five students from other universities in early March.

The IBE is a professional organization that converges yearly to form connections between engineers and support scholarship among students in biological engineering. Alongside presentations by various professionals in the field, the organization holds essay, poster and design competitions for undergraduates and graduates. This year the essay contest concerned bioethics in healthcare.

Repella and Maass' essay, titled "Ethical Considerations of Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare," touched on various issues, including technological uses, potential biases and distribution of wealth. Their greatest intrigue, however, stemmed from personal experience. Repella, while working in a clinical setting, recounts an experience with a heart echocardiogram on a cancer patient that resulted in a diagnostic error. This then led to Repella questioning the ethics of the situation: "Who does the responsibility lie with when these errors arise?"

Raj Rao, head of the department of biomedical engineering, praised the students for their success in tackling an issue on the cutting edge of healthcare policy.

"I commend Tasha and Jordan for researching a highly contemporary topic that relates to big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence in the context of healthcare applications and presenting their essay at a national stage," Rao said. "These experiences are extremely vital for our students to better understand the changing face of biomedical engineering research and applications as well."

Although their essay discusses the various issues of AI in healthcare, their essay does not dissuade the use of such technology. Instead, as their title suggests, the essay is a consideration of issues. The two found in their research that, although the FDA recently launched a forum to prompt discussion around regulations of AI, the Biomedical Engineering Society's ethical guidelines have not been updated since 2004.

"It is technology that should be utilized and will be important for the future of health industry," Maass said, "but these concerns need to be raised."

Both Repella and Maass have plans to work in industry after graduation.


Kaitlyn Yates, multimedia specialist
Biomedical Engineering

Nick DeMoss, director of communications
College of Engineering


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