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Designing a Better Quality of Life

Department of Bioengineering term lecturer and advisory board member Gerardo Noriega, engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur with more than 25 years in the medical device industry, is passionate about finding solutions to problems that hit close to home. So when a family member's surgical complication led to a colostomy, he shared the experience with the bioengineering students who were looking for a challenge they could take on for their senior design project.

Jeffrey Dunbar, Lia Vosti, and Marissa Crosetti
Photo: Charles Barry

Seniors Marissa Crosetti, Jeffrey Dunbar, and Lia Vosti immediately recognized the problems associated with an external vessel for the collection of waste and wanted a better option for patients, so they set about designing an internal colostomy bag to improve users' lives. They recognized that, while leakage, infection, and irritation are bad enough, addressing the embarrassment and decline in quality of life is equally important to a patient's well-being. Collaborating with Olakunle O. Ajayi, M.D., a colorectal surgeon with Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, the trio is developing an implantable device made from biocompatible material that will appeal to both surgeons and patients. Their ideas are sound enough that Dr. Ajayi has advised they will soon be ready to test their device on a porcine model to see how the intestine will respond, and a provisional patent has been submitted for the device they have termed, "Recepticol."

"Our idea is for an internal bag that can drain with a catheter or other option," said Crosetti. "With no stoma, or hole left open, the body will be able to heal around the port so the intestine—which is meant to be internal—is not exposed to the world." According to Vosti, "Our two main engineering components are the connection to the small intestine on the inside, and the connection to the external port for drainage."

The students are also being advised by adjunct lecturer Shane Rogers, engineer, entrepreneur, and alumnus of SCU's Engineering Management and Leadership program. The team took a product assessment class with Rogers, which helped immensely as they began to identify clinical need for their target group of patients who have had all or part of their large or small intestine removed.

As the Senior Design Conference approached, the team focused on producing a prototype. "At this point we have to take an educated guess based on the 12 months of research we've done, the feedback we've received from the surgeon and a mechanical engineer we've been working with, and the expertise of our advisors," said Dunbar.

"We're excited," said Crosetti, "it's been a huge whirlwind of unknowns, and initially just started as a senior design project, but it's really grown. This is like real life; that's what we keep getting told!"