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Seniors sharpen their skills engineering a new scalpel

Plasma Blade
Margaret Howe, Mehana Ho’opi’I, and Shereen Elserougi show off their electrosurgical prototypes; Photo credit: Charles Barry

After taking Engineering in the Community (ENGR 110) and a medical device production class (BIOE 107) taught by Paul Davison, vice president of research and development for PEAK Surgical, Inc., electrical engineering students Shereen Elserougi and Margaret Howe and bioengineering major Mehana Ho’opi’i took on the challenge of adapting PEAK’s revolutionary PlasmaBlade (an electrosurgical device that uses radiofrequency to cut at a low temperature) for their senior design project.

The students have been working since last summer to engineer a transducer element on the PlasmaBlade that will recognize the proximity of blood vessels, and in response, notify the surgeon. Their design incorporates a number of sensors to detect the movement of blood within the vessel. “If the surgeon can avoid cutting a blood vessel, there is no need to stop and clean up, so surgery can be completed more quickly with reduced blood loss,” said Elserougi. After testing and discarding a number of prototypes, the team is now performing tests with their device using water and gelatin with a plastic pet store tubing “vein.”

“It’s definitely been a journey,” said Ho’opi’i; “we’ve tried so many different prototypes and variations of the placement of the sensors. We all had internships in the area last summer, so we were able to get a jump on our project working together during our free time.”

“Senior design has been so different from any other project,” added Howe, who surprisingly admits she is queasy about blood and surgery. “Working in a group for such a long time and maintaining a professional relationship with each other and with a third party-our advisor-has shown us we have to get along in order to succeed.”

“This team works well together and with their advisors,” said Davison, “Each team member has different strengths that have crystallized to form a project that has interesting implications for surgery and medical devices.”

The three intend to write an ethics paper about their project and the testing of medical devices. “We all have different viewpoints on that subject,” they said, “but that should make for a good paper!”