Student developed a life-saver medical device

A tool that helps medical staff create a new airway for patients in an emergency.

Francis Pooke, University of Canterbury Engineering Ph.D. student, has developed a simplified tracheostomy kit- a tool that helps medical staff create a new airway for patients in an emergency.

A tracheostomy is performed for several reasons, all involving restricted airways. Usually, it is performed during an emergency when your airway is blocked.

The procedure is done by inserting a tube through a cut in the neck below the vocal cords. This allows air to enter the lungs. However, due to its complexity and high complication rate, the procedure is performed so rarely.

Francis has reinvented the standard tracheostomy kit. He has developed a new device that makes the process a lot less complicated and decreases hazards.

In collaboration with Christchurch intensive care specialist Geoff Shaw, Francis worked on the design of his device. He then applied an engineering approach to the procedure.

Francis said, “The development process involved a lot of testing and end-user feedback from Dr Shaw. It took several versions before we achieved the final design, but in the end, I believe we’ve developed an innovative solution which has the potential to greatly improve how tracheostomies are performed.”

The final design was found to be almost 50% less time-consuming. Unlike the current clinical kit that involves 12 parts, this new simplified tracheostomy kit has only seven parts. It makes the steps involved easier and more intuitive and halves the number of insertions and removals into the patient’s throat, helping to reduce risk.

Francis said, “For me, the work I’m doing is the perfect combination because it has aspects of both. I like the technical side of engineering and design, but I’m also interested in the medical field and helping to improve healthcare. I’ve found bioengineering a really enjoyable and rewarding area of research.”

Currently, the new kit is in the prototype stage. Francis is hopeful a commercial company will be interested in further developing it and putting it on the market.

UC Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering Geoff Chase said“Francis has navigated design challenges to provide an elegant and potentially life-saving solution with his new tracheostomy kit. He is an outstanding design engineer who has been really adept at working in partnership with a clinician to create a dramatically simplified approach to a complex procedure.”

“I think the final product can save lives and is easily generalized to other tracheotomy devices. This project shows the impact young engineers can have on real things with high costs in lives and dollars. There are a wealth of opportunities throughout healthcare awaiting bright students like Francis with creative ideas.”

Francis is one of two finalists for Engineering New Zealand’s Student Engineer of the Year Award.

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