Dec 22, 2013
05:49 AMHealth & Science
Yale Students Meld Medical Research, Engineering to Design Tools for Future
Mara Lavitt/New Haven Register
Yale University student Charlotte Guertler demonstrates her group’s Novel Surgical Tool for ENT Procedures with Rahul Kini and Stephen Hall at the final presentation of Yale’s Medical Device Design and Innovation course at the school’s Center for Engineering Innovation and Design.
It’s not every day that a college semester project has the potential to save lives.
Yet with each tweak and tinker in Joseph Zinter’s Medical Device Design and Innovation course at Yale University in New Haven, students came closer to finding novel solutions to real-world problems facing doctors and patients.
“Some have a lot of moving electrons and others have a lot of moving parts,” said Zinter, assistant director of Yale’s Center for Engineering Innovation and Design. He co-taught the medical device class with Dr. Richard Fan, an associate research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine.
“With continued work, 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 intended to serve,” Zinter said.
“This class was really an experiment,” Fan noted. The idea was to fuse medical research experience with engineering and design skills.
Nearly 100 students, doctors and engineers crowded into CEID’s classroom area recently to watch the final presentations. A quartet of student teams reported on their projects, which ranged from a new surgical device to a portable unit for recording epileptic seizures.
“This is phenomenal, what you’ve all been doing,” said Dr. Kurt Roberts, associate professor of surgery at the medical school. “I’m not sure if you realize it, but you’ve had an impact.”
This was the first time Yale has offered the class. During the summer, Fan and Zinter put out a call to the medical school for project proposals, and doctors came to CEID to pitch their ideas for new medical devices to students.
Then it was up to the students — who included engineers, physicists, chemists, school of management students and environmental studies students — to work up concepts for prototypes.
One team developed a perfusion and transportation system for surgeons who want to perform small bowel transplants. They used a plastic cooler, tubing, electric pumps and pig intestines to test their device’s effectiveness.
“This will jump the field forward,” said Dr. John Geibel, professor of surgery and of cellular and molecular biology at Yale, who worked with the students. “I can attest to the fact that it worked really well.”
The delicate and unwieldy nature of lower intestines prevents many doctors from attempting such transplants. But the students produced a system that keeps intestinal tissue sufficiently cold and protected from blunt trauma for at least eight hours, while minimizing vascular leaks.
“This was one of the happiest, most rewarding moments of my Yale career,” said senior Natalie Pancer, a member of the team.
The group intends to keep refining the unit next semester, even though they’ve completed the course.