Developing a new device to protect young patients during anesthesia

Pediatric anesthesiologists, like Dr. Guelay Bilen-Rosas at UW Health, have long been concerned by how difficult it is to detect breathing problems among young patients during anesthesia. No matter how many years you're trained, it is really a high-risk situation and a lot can go wrong. It was these concerns that led Bilen-Rosas to the groundbreaking engineering design work being done at the Morgridge Institute for Research Fab Lab led by institute investigator Kevin Eliceiri.

Anesthetics or sedatives slowly degrade a patient's ability to protect their breathing. Slowly, structures in the airway start collapsing. The tongue can fall back. Conditions like laryngospasm, the sustained closing of the vocal cords, can impair breathing. Those changes, as we administer anesthesia, are not very easily detected, and they can develop quickly.

These problems are difficult to teach to prospective anesthesiologists, especially in pediatric patients who are being anesthetized with inhalation agents. During this very delicate period, breathing troubles can be subtle, and different, and there is never a good way for me to instruct trainees quantitively about when a patient is reaching a critical point and when early interventions are needed. This is particularly true for children, who by nature of their physiology, are especially susceptible to developing airway changes quickly. Children also have lower levels of respiratory reserves-;this makes timely recognition imperative to initiate rescue maneuvers.

Bilen-Rosas says she explored the market looking for a device, a real-time monitor that would alert doctors if a patient was deteriorating. But no such device existed.

That led her to the BerbeeWalsh Prototype Pathway and the Fab Lab at the Morgridge Institute. Bilen-Rosas had an initial vision of what the clinical device could be, but the idea evolved sover the years working with talented engineering students and staff engineers such as Robert Swader, George Petry, and Ben Cox.

The first prototype was dubbed ROAM (Respiratory Obstruction Airway Monitor) and was developed by the biomedical engineering students.

Over several semesters with input and design expertise from the Fab Lab, they made improvements in the algorithms and interfaces needed to make it work. The machine also has become smaller and sleeker, and now includes a touchscreen panel. For the first time, they have a machine that tells doctors: "Now is the time to intervene. Now is the time to do the measures needed to start troubleshooting." ROAM detects a critical threshold when the patient's breathing goes below safe levels. The device sends audible or visual alarms to the anesthesiologist.

Bilen-Rosas says the Morgridge Institute is "a little island of hope. It's a little island of friends, of professionals, of people who just thrive by the thought: How can they make things better? Not only for themselves but for the community. It's a community of people whose philosophy is: 'We're here together to find a path to where you need to be. We're here to help each other.'"


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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