STORIES

PEAK Surgical:
Bioengineers Engage with Local Company to Create Breakthrough Innovations

Peak Surgical
West Askew '11 and Michelle Bohner '11.
Photo by Chuck Barry.


While interning at PEAK Surgical, a medical device manufacturer in Palo Alto, Michelle Bohner ’11, a bioengineering major, researched electrosurgery and learned about a potential risk to patients. Together she and fellow bioengineering student West Askew ’11 turned that spark of an idea into a senior design project—a mechanism to decrease the chance of a fire in a patient’s airway during ear, nose, or throat surgery.

“We took a couple of different approaches and really narrowed it down to detecting the concentration of oxygen in proximity to the actual electro-scalpel,” Askew explains. Once a dangerous level is sensed, the device alerts the surgeon with visual and auditory warnings, delivers a flame-retardant gas, and shuts down. They tested the device on a faux trachea, plastic tubing in a simulated mouth cavity, to further refine it.

“When we first pitched the idea to the vice president of PEAK surgical, Paul Davison, he liked the idea. So we went with it,” Bohner said. She and Askew met with Davison and R & D manager Ralph McNall once a week to fine-tune their plans.

“They provided feedback on our ideas for the project, testing methods, and materials,” Bohner said. “I think interacting with them and having somebody who knows how to develop a product from a business standpoint is very helpful versus just reading, ‘This is how you develop a product,' out of a textbook.”

SCU’s location in the heart of Silicon Valley added to the school’s appeal for both students. “That’s one of the main reasons I chose to come to Santa Clara,” Askew said. “There’s really no better place to go to school in the U. S., I think, in terms of location for bioengineering because of the concentration of these biotech companies that are really just down the street.”

Bohner appreciated the frequent contributions of local bioengineers in her classes. “The upper division bioengineering classes made a good effort at engaging local companies with what we were learning. I took several classes where the professors arranged field trips to local companies,” she said. “Even in my introduction to bioengineering course we had guest professors come in to lecture about their companies and why they’re involved in industry or research.”

But the two are particularly indebted to the engineers at PEAK. “They were invaluable,” Askew said. “Their help, their guidance, their expertise. We couldn’t have done this project without them.”