Yale Class Creates the Medical Tools of Tomorrow

New Haven >> It’s not every day that a college semester project has the potential to save lives.

Yet with every tweak and tinkering by Joseph Zinter Design and innovation of medical devices courses at Yale University, students came closer to finding new solutions to real-world problems facing physicians and patients.

“Some have a lot of moving electrons and others have a lot of moving parts,” said Zinter, deputy director of Yale’s. Engineering Design and Innovation Center. He co-taught the medical devices course with Dr. Richard Fan, associate researcher at the Yale School of Medicine.

“With the work continuing, we hope to move some of these projects from the bench to the bedside, where they can improve the lives of the patients they are meant to serve,” Zinter said.

“This class was truly an experience,” Fan noted. The idea was to merge the medical research experience with engineering and design skills.

Nearly 100 students, doctors and engineers gathered recently in the CEID classroom to attend the final presentations. A quartet of student teams reported on their projects, which ranged from a new surgical device to a portable unit to record epileptic seizures.

“This is phenomenal, what all of you have done,” said Dr. Kurt Roberts, associate professor of surgery in the school of medicine. “I don’t know if you realize it, but you have made an impact. “

It was the first time that Yale offered the course. Over the summer, Fan and Zinter appealed to the medical school for project proposals, and doctors came to CEID to present their ideas for new medical devices to the students.

Then it was up to the students – which included engineers, physicists, chemists, business school students, and environmental studies students – to come up with concepts for prototypes.

A team has developed an infusion and transport system for surgeons who wish to perform small intestine transplants. They used a plastic cooler, tubes, electric pumps, and pig intestines to test the effectiveness of their device.


“This will advance the field,” said Dr. John Geibel, professor of surgery and cell and molecular biology at Yale, who has worked with the students. “I can attest to the fact that it worked very well. “

The delicate and heavy nature of the small intestine prevents many doctors from attempting such transplants. But the students produced a system that keeps intestinal tissue sufficiently cool and protected from blunt trauma for at least eight hours, while minimizing vascular leakage.

“It was one of the happiest and most rewarding times of my career at Yale,” said team member Natalie Pancer.

The group intends to continue refining the unit next semester, even though they have completed the course.

Another team of students created a surgical tool to facilitate operations on the back of the tongue and the skull.

Such operations now require a patient’s head to be placed at an extreme angle, and surgeons sometimes have to incise the jawbone to access a tumor. Expensive surgical equipment, including the da Vinci robotic tool, is often used in these cases.

Yale students have designed what they see as a non-invasive, less expensive tool that provides access to these hard-to-reach areas. It involved multiple prototypes, using 3D printed parts and a system of small cables and pulleys running through the small device.

“I like to call them thinking prototypes,” said Dan Rathbone, senior.

One part was only slightly larger than George Washington’s nose over a quarter.

Charlotte Guertler, an elderly person, demonstrated the latest prototype on a model of a skull, nicknamed “Johnny”.

“Guys, you did well,” said Dr. Boris Paskhover, a Yale surgeon who has worked with the students. “It’s quite small, you can use it for cranial surgery.”

A third team of students, supervised by Drs. Robert Duckrow and Jason Gerrard, worked on a portable device to record epileptic seizures. It would clip onto a person’s belt and require the placement of two electrodes behind the ear.

The device would solve a persistent problem that many doctors face in treating patients with epilepsy.

“A lot of crises are actually going unrecorded,” said Rebecca Rabison, a business school student. Because the Yale unit is smaller and cheaper than current devices, patients would be more likely to use it.

The fourth student team worked on a better drug delivery system for children with hemophilia. The team developed concepts for a single unit that would streamline the drug injection process and communicate the status of an infusion to parents during the process.

There might even be a way to develop an iPhone app for use with the device.

Zinter and Fan, who watched the presentations from the front row, seemed pleased with the results.

“It was no wonder we created this course,” said Zinter. “It’s amazing that this course doesn’t already exist.

Call Jim Shelton at 203-789-5664. Have questions, comments or ideas about our media coverage? Connect directly with the editors of the New Haven Register at AskTheRegister.com.


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