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A simpler tracheal intubation design garnered two engineering students this year’s John W. Senders Award for Imaginative Design (Photo: Nina Haikara).

A piece of string, a $1 spring and some 3D-printed plastic – it doesn’t sound like much. Yet, when brilliantly combined, these items can make a new tracheal intubation guide system for hard-to-intubate patients costing under $20.

It’s an innovative design that has netted its designers, then-fourth-year engineering students Qian (Linda) Liu (EngSci 1T3 + PEY) and Kaiyin (Cathy) Zhu (EngSci 1T3 + PEY) this year’s John W. Senders Award for Imaginative Design. From U of T Engineering, the award is “for the imaginative and successful application of the principles of human factors to the design of a medical device.”

Tracheal intubation is the placement of a flexible plastic tube into somebody’s windpipe (the trachea) to ensure that a patient can continue to breathe. They are often needed in high-risk situations in emergency wards or intensive care units.

But if the intubation is not done properly, or the patient is particularly vulnerable because of age or another circumstance, intubation can cause a great deal of internal damage.

Submitted by anesthesiologist Dr. Sherif Eskander, the project was intended to improve both the function and design over current tools, but also to keep costs low.

The students’ solution? Simplicity.

Leveraging the capabilities of 3D printing, the intubation tool (seen above) improves on current devices, and its novel design is intended to help tricky patients.

“He looking for a tool with the rigidity of a bronchial scope and the flexibility of a stylette,” explained Liu, who has just begun a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Design at John’s Hopkins University.

“There are some models out there that work,” she added, “but they cost $10,000.”

The project began as a final assignment for BME 489, a Capstone project-based course run through the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (IBBME), part of the Division of Engineering Science’s Biomedical Systems Engineering Option. Students in the course worked in teams to tackle real-world biomedical engineering problems submitted by industry and health care professionals as well as professors looking to solve a particular problem.

Working with Dr. Eskander, the pair developed the tool to the point where it was ready for mannequin trials, already performing extremely well. Currently, Dr. Eskander and the inventors are working with other experts to perfect the design.

“The Senders award is an outstanding achievement for Cathy and Linda,” said course instructor Professor Rodrigo Fernandez-Gonzalez (IBBME). “Their project was selected over other capstone projects in the Faculty as the one with the greatest relevance for human health. With their tenacity, adaptability, and ingenious design, Cathy and Linda set an inspiring model for the incoming BME489 class.”

In a meeting with the young inventors, Professor Emeritus John W. Senders (MIE), namesake of the award, shared: “The history of mechanical engineering goes back to the Greeks. The Greeks might have invented something similar: straightforward, obvious – and that’s a good invention.”



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