Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Evolution of the ultraStand™

Inventing medical devices is all in a day's class work.

By Kathryn LoConte
Photographs by Douglas Fraser

Sometimes doctors need a helping hand. In 2005 alums Kathy Hickey Th’03 and Amish Parashar ’03 Th’03 began work on a “Biomedical Positioning Stabilizing System” to give them one. “Anesthesiologists were working with ultrasound to guide needle placement under visualization for regional nerve blocking, but found they needed an extra person, or at least an extra hand, to be able to use the ultrasound technology effectively,” says Hickey. “We wanted to make a two-person job into a one-person job to allow people to learn and do other jobs instead of standing there and holding an ultrasound probe.”


Encouraged by Gregg Fairbrothers of the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, Hickey, Aaron Gjerde Th’09, and Rob van Aalst co-founded Wellan Medical Inc. to turn the idea into a marketable reality. Collaborating with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center anesthesiologists Brian Sites and Brian Spence ’95 Th’96, Wellan Medical sponsored two more teams of Thayer ENGS 190/290: Project Design students to add other features and refinements to the device. The result is the ultraStand™, a probe-positioning system that works as a third hand, allowing a single clinician to perform image-guided procedures with ease. Wellan Medical, which is based in Lebanon, N.H., now sells the device throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

Wellan and Thayer share further connections. Until recently Hickey served as assistant director of Thayer’s Cook Engineering Design Center — the clearinghouse for linking 190/290 students with industry-sponsored projects. (Still part of the Wellan team, she’s now in the Ph.D. program in biomedical sciences at the University of West Virginia.) And Gjerde is at Thayer for an M.E.M. degree, for which he has worked on — what else? — the ultraStand.

The Iterations

2005: Biomedical Positioning Stabilizing System

Kathy Hickey Th’03, Amish Parashar ’03 Th’03 developed a device to help anesthesiologists use ultrasound to guide regional nerve-blocking procedures.

2007: The UltraHand

Building on the design of the biomedical positioning stabilizing system, Meredith Lunn ’06 Th’07, Deborah Sperling ’06 Th’07, and Kazi Ahmed ’07 Th’07 implemented a locking articulating arm and an ultrasound cart clamp that allows the arm to sit directly on a cart instead of on a stand. The clamp was brought to market within months of the project’s completion and broke ground for other successful medical clamp products.

STAND AND DELIVER: Left to right, Kristen Lurie ’08 Th’08, Aaron Gjerde Th’09, and Eric Winer ’08 Th’08 added finishing touches to the ultraStand.
STAND AND DELIVER: Left to right, Kristen Lurie ’08 Th’08, Aaron Gjerde Th’09, and Eric Winer ’08 Th’08 added finishing touches to the ultraStand.

2008: Ultrasound-Guided Image Optimization System

Kristen Lurie ’08 Th’08, Eric Winer ’08 Th’08, and Aaron Gjerde Th’09 created a way for the articulating arm to keep the ultrasound probe on target even if the patient moves. The team designed and installed pressure and position sensors at the tip of the arm. When the sensor detects patient movement, a computer-controlled microprocessor adjusts the arm accordingly.

To Your Health

Students have created numerous new medical devices over the years. Here’s a sampling.

Non-Restricting Knee Joint
Aaron Goss ’03 Th’04, Julie Kowalsky ’03, Brian Mason ’03 Th’04, ’05, and William Shields ’03
The group developed a lightweight, adjustable spring-loaded knee-brace for patients with weak quadriceps. “The highlight of the project came when we tested our joint on an elderly woman handicapped by the amputation of one leg while her other leg remained weakened due to old age,” says Mason. “She walked with the brace and said it was comfortable and easy to use.”

Cervical Spinal Retractor
Alicia Petryk ’06 Th’07, Cathy Gaito ’07 Th’07, and Narayana Golding ’07
The team made a cervical spinal retractor out of polycarbonate, which is compatible with X-ray imaging and can be sterilized by autoclave.

Hip Alignment Jig
Ryan Stehr ’05 Th’06, DMS ’10
The caliper assesses the positioning of the femoral head during total hip replacement surgery. “I worked with an orthopedic surgeon, and we conducted a study using 50 patients, 25 of whom had the caliper used during their operation and 25 without,” says Stehr. “The data show that femoral length and offset — two measures of leg geometry — are more accurately restored when the device is used during the surgery.”

Diagnostic Breath Collection Device
Javier Fernandez ’07 Th’08 and Ph.D. candidate Jennifer Tate ’08
The team developed a way to detect carbon dioxide in the exhaled breath of patients on oxygen masks while under light anesthesia. “We integrated an adjustable sample collection tube with matching adapter port into normal oxygen masks,” says Tate.

Sterilization of Intravenous Fluid
Renee Cottle ’07 Th’09, Steve Reinitz ’09 Th’09, and Kathryn Boucher ’09 Th’09
The group developed a device that prevents intravenous fluid-borne bacterial infections. It uses ultraviolet light to irradiate and sterilize fluids as they flow through the IV line. “We have filed a patent application for the device and hope to continue working to refine our design during the coming school year,” says Boucher.

—Kathryn LoConte is the assistant editor of Dartmouth Engineer

For more photos, visit our Student Projects and Engineering in Medicine sets on Flickr.

Categories: Features

Tags: curriculum, design, engineering in medicine, entrepreneurship, patent, projects, students

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