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Bucknell Biomed Engineering Students Pop Catheter Bubble Problem

Four biomedical engineering students at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA have developed a device to help medical professionals inject fluids into a patient's blood vessels without also injecting air bubbles.

Working with doctors at nearby Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, students Anna Latimer, Alex Radebaugh, Kate Burke, and Rob Littlefield have tackled the catheter bubble problem as their senior project. When a doctor injects fluids into patients' blood vessels to assess blood flow, the fluids and contrast dye are channeled through tubes, or catheters, and sometimes air bubbles form. The bubbles can be harmful, in some cases causing damage not unlike an aneurism.

Currently, the method to prevent the bubbles is to manually check the tubing and physically flick to get the bubbles out. "It's kind of a medieval process," said Latimer.

The team has developed a device to divert fluid and filter out air before it reaches the catheter, greatly reducing the likelihood that air bubbles will enter the body.

This is the third year Bucknell biomedical engineering students have partnered with Geisinger on their senior design projects to find solutions to real medical problems. Four other biomedical engineering teams have developed devices with Geisinger mentors and faculty advisers for use in general surgery, orthopedics, DNA research, and urology.

Geisinger representatives filed paperwork this week reserving the right to pursue further development and possibly a patent for the air bubble device, said Eric Kennedy, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and one of the team advisers. Hospital administrators have considered doing the same for two other devices, one that can suck out blood clots from tubing for surgical drains and another that improves the means for measuring bone quality during orthopedic surgery.

Each biomedical engineering team was partnered with a doctor, whom they observed in surgery during the fall semester, to identify potential problems and areas for improvement. The teams worked with Assistant Professor Joe Tranquillo, Kennedy, and biomedical engineering department chair Dan Cavanagh to draft contracts with the hospital, giving intellectual rights to Geisinger in exchange for the experience of developing real medical devices. The spring semester was devoted to building physical prototypes and testing to perfect the design.

The partnership is beneficial to the students and to Geisinger, said Glenn Gerhard, a doctor who has been working with Bucknell students for the last three years.

"We don't have this ability. We can't build anything," Gerhard said. "To have eager students and brilliant engineers helping us is great. We're over there doing this business, and we think, 'If only we could solve this problem.'"

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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