Sunday, August 5, 2007

Some thoughts about surgical staplers

As a biomedical engineering student, I am interested in the biomedical devices used in the clinic and operating room. During the summer immersion, I was impressed the state-of-the-art surgical staplers.

Surgical staplers and clip appliers are complex mechanical medical devices that have been on the market for years and are mature in their technology. These devices are used in gastrointestinal, gynecologic, thoracic, and many other surgeries to remove part of an organ, to cut through organs and tissues and to create connections between structures. The benefit of using these devices allows for more complex procedures and shorter surgical procedure time.

However, Each year over the past 5 years there have been 8,000 to 9,000 adverse event reports related to surgical staplers. The most common problems with the device are: staples don't form, staplers misfire or don't fire. The most common problem with the patient is anastomosis failure. This is also where my research project originally arise from. Solving the anastomosis problem is meaningful.

In the OR, I also saw electronic surgical staplers. Compared to mechanical stapler, it provides improvements such as, removes force from the anastomotic site; digitally senses tissue compression levels; digitally selects staple heights; prompts surgeon via LCD and voice message.

By talking to the doctors and the engineers from the vendors, I feel that the research in a medical device company is somewhat different from research in the school. In the school, the research is more focused on the basic science, but in a company, it must be application oriented. For example, the physical principles inside a stapler have been well established since Newton and Maxwell. However, such a device is still innovative because it facilitates doctor’s procedures, and it fundamentally changed suturing process. The research is a designing process. Instead of incorporating a lot of high technologies, a device that best meets the doctor’s need might be more useful.

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