February 09, 2017
By Joe Stumpe
Now in its second year, collaboration between biomedical engineering students at Wichita State University and the KU School of Medicine-Wichita (KUSM-W) continues to put forth intriguing possibilities.
Could a cheaper and easier-to-use aid for locating veins be found for medical personnel needing to draw blood?
Might a more reliable method of ensuring that stomach feeding tubes reach and stay in the right place be developed?
These are the projects that two three-student teams of WSU bioengineering majors deveoped after spending time with Dr. Jonathan Baalman, a KUSM-W grad and second-year resident at KUSM-W family medicine residency at Wesley, along with other personnel at the facility. Other teams of students shadowed KU residents at Wesley Children's Hospital and KUSM-W sports medicine fellowship.
The idea is that by seeing first-hand the challenges that physicians and other caregivers face in the real world, and using input and feedback from those medical professionals, the engineering students can focus on a significant need in their senior capstone project. On a broader level, it's part of an effort by both educational institutions to work together more.
The WSU students spent part of their senior fall semester gathering information. They will develop a prototype solution during the upcoming spring semester. The projects must meet several criteria, including having market potential and being within the engineering capabilities of the students. The devices must comply with federal health regulations. They can't duplicate other devices that already exist, meaning the students must research existing patents. The students must enter their projects in at least two competitions for students.
In December, the students who shadowed Baalman presented their initial plans to a group that included him; Dr. Rick Kellerman, chair of the KUSM-W Department of Family and Community Medicine; Gary Brooking, of the WSU biomedical engineering department; and Samuel Ofei Dodoo, Ph.D.; Kari Nilsen, Ph.D.; and Julie Galliart, all of the Department of Family and Community Medicine.
WSU students Jerad Rogers, Ben Loflin and Martina Salerno said they landed on the idea of a more affordable vein finder after seeing medical personnel use a device called the AccuVein at the children's hospital.
"They vocalized how the device has helped them reduce time and money," Salerno said, going on to note the obvious benefit for patients: medical personnel "are not sticking patients so many times," trying to find veins.
The problem with the AccuVein: it costs about $5,000, works better when the lights are dimmed, and requires somebody to hold it.
Finding a vein is more difficult in some pediatric, dehydrated or obese patients, and those with darker skin. Larger hospitals such as Wesley have special teams of personnel dedicated to the task of drawing blood, but that's not an option for many other providers.
Solutions suggested by the students included a device that could be strapped to a patient's arm and another that could be clamped to nearby equipment.
"You've hit on something that's really important," Kellerman told the students, wondering if a better device could also serve the function of helping medical personnel start IVs, "which is really more difficult" than drawing blood.
The second team of students - Mariah Mendoza, Blayze Miller and Tyler Laudick - is focusing on helping medical providers verify the placement of nasogastric tubes. The students said about one million such tubes are placed in patients each year, with 15 to 20 percent of them not reaching or staying in the stomach. That can lead to discomfort, severe medical complications and even death for patients.
The current "gold standard" for verifying placement is an X-ray, Mendoza said, but there are concerns about the effect of radiation from that procedure.
Proposed solutions included fitting the tube with a tracking device or mechanism for drawing samples from the patient to determine the tube's location.
Kellerman and Baalman both pointed out several possible problems with the proposals, but in response to a question from Brooking, both confirmed there's need for better tube placement verification.
"These are not a lot of fun to get or to have to put in," Kellerman said.
"I think those of us who put in nasogastric tubes - and patients who have them - would be very interested in it," Baalman said.
The collaboration between the two schools, which began with one team of students last year, does not appear in danger of running out of challenges for the students. Brooking said a total of 52 areas for possible improvement had been identified.
As for the students' proposals, "It's exciting to hear what they come up with," said Dr. Gretchen Dickson, KUSM-W associate professor and program director of Wesley Family Medicine Residency program.KU School of Medicine-Wichita