UK Surgeons, Engineer Collaborate on Medical Tech Design

Lexington, Ky. (July 31, 2020) – During a routine surgery that combined their specialties, Dr. Mark Fritz, a laryngologist in the University of Kentucky Department of Otolaryngology, and Dr. Moamen Gabr, an interventional gastroenterologist in the Department of Internal Medicine, noted that their workflow in endoscopic surgeries could be improved and expedited if they had a particular surgical instrument. The problem was, said instrument didn’t exist.

“Such a tool would not only provide much needed effectiveness in our procedures but also cut down significantly the operational time,” said Dr. Gabr.

Gabr and Fritz reached out to Dr. Guigen Zhang, professor and chair of the F. Joseph Halcomb III, M.D. Department of Biomedical Engineering, with their dilemma. Since first meeting a year ago, Zhang guided the design, managed the procurement parts and developed a working prototype device, while Fritz and Gabr ensured that the device met the clinical requirements.

The device, which is an endoscopic bleeding control device, will help improving safety of these complex interventional endoscopic procedures, control complications and help with better visualization during these procedures that can overall increase patient safety and improve clinical outcomes.

“Before this we used to use multiple endoscopic and surgical tools to perform the same function that added more time to the procedure,” said Gabr.

Six months after their initial meeting, the trio did a demonstration of the device, filed a provisional patent and are now working with UK’s Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC), to explore ways to enlist medical companies to help advance the technology and market it to physicians facing the same dilemma in operating rooms across the country.

In April, the Kentucky Councils on Postsecondary Education approved UK’s proposed Bachelor of Science degree program in biomedical engineering —the only BME program powered by design-thinking, a creative process that encourages designers to focus on the people they're creating for, which leads to better products and services. In close collaboration with the College of Design, the College of Engineering is set to start the program this fall with its inaugural sophomore class.

“I believe that the true uniqueness and measure for successes for the new program is to have BME students, equipped with technical know-how and Design-Thinking skills, become future leaders in solving clinical problems and helping transform the healthcare landscape,” said Zhang. “Throughout their education, BME undergraduate students are expected to work on healthcare related projects and clinical challenges. The above fruitful collaboration is an example where clinicians in the College of Medicine and Medical Centers can bring their clinical challenges, diagnostic dilemmas, and new ideas to the table and work side-by-side with engineering faculty and BME students to find solutions and develop new medical technologies. Toward that end, UK provides a fertile ground, great infrastructure and vast resources for deepening the Engineering-Medicine integration towards training able biomedical engineers and developing new technologies and products to help patients.”