Medical Product Prototyping: Team SenTech

Medical Product Prototyping: Team SenTech

Category: Prototype

Medical Product Prototyping (BIOENG 2171) is a course in which students get the opportunity to put the tools they learn in Medical Product Ideation (BIOENG 2150), Medical Product Development (BIOENG 2151 ) and Clinical Bioengineering (BIOENG 2170) to use. This course is a perfect example of the learning-by-doing ideology followed by the Center for Medical Innovation in its graduate programs. The prototyping process not only helps the students put the skills they develop during the MPE program to practical use, making it an exceptional educational exercise, it also helps them contribute to “improving medicine, one life at a time”.

The SenTech team is made of three students, Nick Scangas (MS-MPE), Mathew Niesslein (MS-MPE) and Margaret Evans (MS-MPE). The EZ-Track Retractor Blade System was presented during the Design Expo of Fall 2014 and won the Best Overall Project award as well as Best Project award in its category.

Finding the unmet clinical need was the first step of the process. This was done in the Clinical Bioengineering course. Students performed ethnographic research in Cardiology, Neurology, Intervention/Investigatory and Orthopedics specialties by observing various clinical procedures. After observing an anterior cervical discectomy infusion, followed by extensive ideation, a clinical need for minimizing the time of placing and replacing retractor blades in the operating room setting was identified.

Currently, when a surgical incision is made, a retractor is used to hold the top layers of tissue back to gain access to the afflicted internal organ or tissue. The length of retractor blade changes throughout the surgery as the surgeon cuts into deeper tissue to be able to hold all the layers of tissue out of the way, this requires the surgeon to keep changing the blade depending on the required blade length.

The aim was to come up with a more efficient surgical retractor system that would minimize the time required to get the appropriate length retractor blade. After 3 months of brainstorming, self-reflection into the problem, ideation and several rounds of prototyping, Team SenTech proposed a user-friendly, easy to sterilize retractor system that allows the surgeon to adjust the length of the blade during the procedure without needing to remove and replace the blade during surgery. The prototype was produced in a stage-gate process, following a series of focused steps.

In the working prototype produced, one of the knobs on the top of the retractor extends the lower half of the retractor, increasing the length, through the use of a driving mechanism and a gear box. This allows the physician’s assistant or the resident to extend the retractors to hold back tissues as the surgeon stays focused and continues his work.

Apart from engineering the design of the prototype, the team also developed a business plan for their product, based on knowledge acquired in Medical Product Development course. With initial investment, Team SenTech hopes to bring the EZ- Tract Retractor Blade System to commercialization and improve the speed of surgery throughout the world.


Yash Mokashi
CMI Fellow