Over thirteen million vaginal deliveries are assisted by devices like obstetric forceps and vacuum extractors each year, potentially avoiding millions of complications, injuries, and deaths of both mothers and babies. However, the tools that doctors and birth attendants currently use to assist difficult deliveries, which apply significant force to the neonatal head, carry their own risks of bruising, laceration, hemorrhaging, and physical deformation.
Jay Lick, DO, clinical associate professor of obstetrics & gynecology at UW-Madison, knew there had to be a better way. So he pitched an idea to Alenna Beroza, Kimberly Buchanan, Emily Junger, and Ana G. Lara Santiago, a team of UW undergraduates seeking to enter the 2015 UW Biomedical Engineering (BME) Award competition: Could they modify the Chinese finger trap—the woven cylindrical toy that becomes tighter when one inserts a finger in either end and pulls in opposite directions—into a device that could help extract a fetus with less stress to the skull.
Lick's problem directly incorporated static and dynamic engineering principals that have been cornerstones of the team's BME curriculum, team spokesperson Lara Santiago said. And as a group of women with hopes of having their own families someday, Lara Santiago said the team members were particularly excited to apply their training to a project that is both personally and globally impactful.
Over a year and a half, the team consulted with Lick and other Ob-Gyn colleagues to define goals for the form and function of the device, and to gather feedback at various stages of design. The resulting device, helically woven from polyurethane-coated nylon and high-density polyethylene strips, with a polypropylene & biocompatible stainless steel applicator, was put through physical and usability testing, as well as numerous simulations, to verify that the device would solve the problem that Lick presented.
The result of the team's efforts won them the 2015 Tong Design Award, named for UW electrical engineering alumnus, Peter Tong, sponsor of the annual BME design competition. According to the competition's website, the Tong awards reward undergraduate teams that design innovative solutions and develop outstanding prototypes to address real challenges that UW medical and life sciences faculty and area biomedical companies face.
While their device has potential to impact millions of women and children around the world, the design process has already had a significant impact on the team. Through Lara Santiago, the team said that the experience of collaborating with a client (Lick) on a real-world problem was among the most valuable of their undergraduate careers.
According to Lick, the student team recently met with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) to discuss patenting their device.
Download the team's poster to learn more about their award-winning design and future research.