Collaboration Keeps Medical Students’ Dreams Alive – UBNow: News and Views for UB Faculty


Detail of a hand doing a suturing exercise featuring finger braces.

Chloe Cotton uses a prototype 3D finger brace to solve her hypermobility problem when practicing suture use.Photo: Sandra Kikman

Chloe Cotone, a first-year medical student at UB, had a problem that could quickly derail her dreams of becoming a surgeon. But thanks to the collaboration of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the dream lives on.

Cotone deals with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a group of genetic disorders that affect connective tissue, in this case joints. She has joint hypermobility. This means that the range of motion of the joints is abnormally large, and the joints are too soft, which can lead to injury.

“When I was in the gross anatomy lab, I struggled to use some surgical instruments in a traditional way, especially because my thumb was so mobile,” she explains. She tried a swan splint that can be worn on her finger or thumb and is designed to prevent hyperextension without restricting flexion.

“There are a few companies that make metal ones, but they’re very expensive. They were around $100 a piece. And they had the features I needed and could be worn under surgical gloves.” I couldn’t find it online,” says Coton.

Being a medical student and having no extra pocket money, she got creative. She went to Michael’s, an arts and crafts store, and bought a ring sizer and copper wire so she could make something herself. “They worked a little bit. Unfortunately, her surgical gloves were torn,” she said.

Her gross anatomy lecturer, Stuart D. Inglis, a lecturer in the Department of Anatomic Pathology, saw her struggle. “What she discovered was that when holding her scalpel, her fingers would clumsily bend, popping out of her joints and back again, causing her great pain. I did,” says Inglis.

There had to be a solution.

From right, Chloe Cotone MS1. Lauren McLaughlin-Kelly. Department of Biomedical Engineering; Department of Biological Sciences; Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences; Surgery; Dr. Joseph Costa;

The project team, left to right: Joseph Costa, Lauren McLaughlin-Kelly, Matthew Feil, Sianna Curry and Chloe Cotone.Photo: Sandra Kikman

collaboration begins

“She asked me about it and showed me some orthotics on the market, which were quite expensive. We were told that we might be able to create one,” says Inglis.

At the time, he was working with several biomedical engineering students to create synthetic prosthetic hands that could be used in surgical simulations. He brought the cotton project to the students, who thought it could be a challenge for them.

Cotone created a new design, showed it to engineering students, and tweaked it along the way.

“After meeting with engineering students, we took the traditional swan splint design as inspiration and created a completely new kind of splint that is lighter, more functional, and cheaper. , because it can be 3D printed, and it has the same effect,” says Cotton. “We worked together to create this design that uses non-abrasive materials and is functionally optimal.”

They brought in Joseph A. Costa, a pathology and anatomy lecturer who manages 3D printing operations at Jacob’s School.

“One of the key factors in terms of what we want these braces to do is not only their functionality, but if she uses them in the gross anatomy lab or in surgery. We want it to be able to withstand autoclaving (steam sterilization, a sterilization typically used for medical or industrial applications) to be disinfected. We want it to be temperature tolerant,” says Costa. says Mr. “Through my connections and her knowledge of 3D printing, I figured out what materials worked and what didn’t.”

They devised a plastic material, VisiJet M2S-HT250, a product of 3D Systems Inc. that can withstand temperatures up to 104 degrees Celsius (219 degrees Fahrenheit).

“The really cool thing is that this material can be autoclaved,” says Coton. “It’s a silicone-based material that can be sterilized. The prototype is soft, it won’t hurt your skin, it won’t pierce your gloves. It’s so peculiar that it’s hard to describe.”

Prototypes include a copper wire prototype made by Chloë Cottone himself. The red plastic braces and white braces developed by the project team can be autoclaved.Photo: Sandra Kikman

Prototype development

Matthew Feel and Sianna Curry, who are completing their master’s degrees in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, a collaboration between the Jacobs School and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Lauren McLaughlin-Kelly, who is pursuing a master’s degree in biological sciences. It was brought into the project last fall.

McLaughlin Kelly and Currie, who are doing research with Inglis, set up a meeting with the orthopedic surgeon to get feedback on the design. Studies on existing models, patents and medical feasibility. Project planning and coordination.

“Based on Chloe’s feedback, we made some tweaks to the model. We’re going to see if that’s the case,” says Curry.

Feil spent several weeks developing a prototype. He used his 3D software his tool Blender to print a prototype and it was adjusted to better fit Cottonee’s fingers.

“Each of the original red plastic braces required only two to three grams of material, and a kilogram of this material can be purchased for about $20, which is just a few cents per finger brace,” he said. Fiel says.

The stronger materials needed to withstand autoclaving are expensive, but still much cheaper than what’s already on the market.

And he doesn’t stop there.

“Mathew used multiple interlocking parts to create something that is sturdy, effectively captures all the small moving parts, and allows the final product to glide smoothly along her (Cotton’s) thumb. We are working on a prototype with .

“The next step is to print a new prototype of Matthew with the interlocking parts to see if it follows Chloe’s thumb movements a little more naturally and comfortably. I’m in the middle of it.”

Benefits for healthcare workers and other workers

Prototypes can be game changers.

“Surgeons are very dedicated to what they do,” McLaughlin-Kelly points out. “They don’t want to give up the operating room, so they operate until they can’t. But with a brace like this, they can work longer. So do people.” “This helps them prolong their careers. It can also be used as a preventive measure. This can make a big difference from a medical point of view,” she says. .

Cottone says what started as a small personal project has now become something with the potential to have a much greater impact. “We are currently looking at ways we can provide these to hypermobile healthcare workers who cannot afford to pay hundreds of dollars for metal splints.”

Patent for prototype

Cottone said the group is working with the Jacobs Institute to patent a prototype that could be used beyond the operating room. For example, people who suffer from other joint problems, especially arthritis, may find these finger braces particularly helpful.

This is the kind of collaborative effort that UB has encouraged across the division.

“As this develops, I see this as a situation where someone with a specific need contacts a faculty member in one department, who in turn can contact someone in another department. So all of this brings together individuals from different silos within the university to create effective products that play a key role in changing someone’s life.”



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