Simple Device Developed to Train Surgeons

November 30, 2016 / By Sharon Henry

Surgery training device may reduce patient injury while reducing 
surgical training time

Irvine, November 30, 2016 —  In collaboration with UCI department of Urology, Calit2 has  developed a training tool to improve surgical technique.  

Minimally invasive surgery has been a major revolution in medicine, but it is not without its own set of risks.

In urological procedures an access sheath is commonly used to prevent trauma from instruments being passed across sensitive tissue in the urinary tract. Insertion of the access sheath itself does not come without its own set of concerns. “Though designed to prevent injury, access sheaths can cause trauma if inserted incorrectly,” said Michael Klopfer, Calit2 engineering lead on the project. Klopfer and his team were made aware of the problem by Dr. Ralph Clayman, a physician in UCI's Urology department. As a surgeon inserts an access sheath, the force exerted and technique used means the difference between ureter injury or not. "Training is required to develop a 'feel' to the insertion procedure," Klopfer said. The system was developed to help train surgeons to deploy insertion sheaths while alerting the surgeon to potentially building forces in the process. "This device can potentially reduce patient injury while reducing surgical training times,” Klopfer added.

The system is comprised of a hand held unit with a force gauge that ergonomically couples to the catheter sheath during insertion. The surgeon holds the device when inserting an insertion sheath. It links to a tablet computer that logs force values during use for later review. The device can also work without the tablet. 

Klopher's background is in biomedical engineering. "A common saying in the field is 'don't make a device with any more than 3 buttons for a surgeon: they already have enough on their minds',” he said. The device holds to this design principle. A minimalist interface is fully configurable via a software link, but once set up, it requires very little attention from the surgical user.  The user interface is simple on the device, but straightforward and intuitive. The team wanted to build a rugged device with a clean and simple interface. “A vintage Leica camera came to mind,” Klopfer said. A dedicated processor aggregates and processes sensor data while a second processor handles communications. The low power design can operate for hours on a single charge of the internal lithium ion battery.  

The device is currently undergoing cadaver trials at the UCIMC and showing promising results. "Working on this project has greatly expanded my knowledge of practical biomedical engineering," said Jonathan Lim, a junior electrical engineering major. He and teammates, Prathyusha Dandamudi, Omair Farooqui, Tuan Lam, and William Wei produced the unit from concept to prototype in about four months.  "It really opened my eyes to see how my class work turns into reality," Farooqui said. "This project was staff overseen, but fundamentally student lead.  It is amazing what our students can do with the correct resources and a spark of vision.  Not only are the students working with us learning practical, powerful engineering and project management skills, but they are helping society in the process, how cool is that,” Klopfer said.